Dark clouds have darkened over Podhale Nowy Targ, as it was announced today that Marcin Kolusz would be staying with GKS Katowice on a one-year deal. Kolusz had initially signed an extension with Podhale Nowy Targ before being loaned to GKS Katowice for the end of the 2022 season. It is still unknown whether Podhale will have a PHL team for 2023; with Kolusz out, they have a single contracted player.
Marcin Kolusz is a certified Polish hockey legend. He was the last Polish player drafted to the National Hockey League after the Minnesota Wild selected him in the fifth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He experienced a massive career rejuvenation after switching from a forward to a defenseman. This gave him a chance in Finland’s top league, the Liiga, and at Slovakia’s top level. He has spent most of his career in the PHL, playing 648 games. In his close to 700 games, he has posted 528 points (187G-341A-528PTS). 2023 will be his 18th season in the PHL.
For GKS Katowice getting Kolusz to return is a significant win. The team has seen quite a few top players leave for other PHL clubs or stronger leagues. GKS Katowice is set to defend its championship and represent Poland in the Champions Hockey League. With the arms races in the PHL heating up, Kolusz gives them strong puck-moving defensemen that many PHL teams lack.
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When a team becomes champions, everyone wants a piece. Katowice has seen plenty of talent poached this offseason, but they keep veteran defenseman Maciej Kruczek in the fold. Kruczek’s deal with the club is for two years.
The 34-year-old defenseman won his third PHL championship, his first with Katowice, this past season. In 56 games, he scored nine goals and assisted on twenty. His 29 points were fifth among all defensemen. This was his second season with GKS Katowice, and he played with Cracovia for six years prior. The former KTH Krynica junior star has played in 453 PHL games and has 206 points. The second most points by any defensemen since 2014. He also is a member of the Polish national team and has represented the team at four World Championships, including the 2022 Division 1 Group B World Championships.
GKS Katowice will look to repeat as champions. They will face an uphill battle after losing quite a few players. Mateusz Michalski and top scorer Patryk Wronka moved to Cracovia, Anthon Eriksson signed in the SHL, and Carl Hudson ended his career. They have kept most of their defense together with re-signing Jakub Wanacki, Mateusz Rompkowski, Patryk Wajda, and now the re-signing of Maciej Kruczek. John Murray will also be returning in between the posts.
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The Polska Hokej Liga has a new team on top as GKS Katowice has swepted Unia Oświęcim in the finals. It is the seventh time in history that the city has been named the champions of Poland, but the first time in 52 years. The long wait and struggles of the team have finally paid off! GKS Katowice left all out on the ice defeated Oswiecim in four games out-scoring them 14 to 6.
In 2015, Katowice had finished with an awful 1-35 record. The team made the slow climb back to the top, before constantly being a contender since 2018. In 2018, the team made it to the finals where they were defeated by GKS Tychy. The next two years would only result in bronze-medal games for Katowice.
In the 2022 offseason, the team brought back former head coach Jacek Płachta, who had been coaching in Germany the past few seasons. It wasn’t just a coaching change as the team brought in Polish national team stars Jakub Wanacki, John Murray, and Patyrk Wronka. The team also added big imports with Anthon Eriksson, Carl Hudson, and Matias Lehtonen. This really felt like a complete overhaul of their roster with so many more players I did not name added. The roster shuffling would continue during the year with more imports and adding Polish legend Marcin Kolusz right before the transfer deadline.
The big moves paid off though as Katowice finished as the top team in the PHL during the regular season. They dominated the playoffs similarly to how they dominated the regular season. In the first round, they dispatched Zaglebie Sosnowiec in five games, including a 9-1 game 5. In the semi-finals, they went head to head with GKS Tychy. The former back-to-back champs gave everything they could and pushed Katowice to game 7. In game 7, the two evenly matched teams went to overtime, where Jakub Wanacki scored the gaming-winning goal.
We have a third team in Poland that has now released a player for not condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. GKS Katowice has released Russian defensemen Alexander Yakimenko. The Estonia-born Russian player was given an option to condemn the war but failed to explicitly condemn Russia.
Yakimenko joined GKS Katowice in the offseason, he played the entire regular season for the team. In total he appeared in 39 matches, recording four goals and nine assists. The 25-year-old also played in four playoff games, registering one assist. The defensemen played around Europe, with appearances in Austria, Kazakstan, and Latvia. Though he primarily played his professional career in Russia’s VHL, the second level of hockey in the country. He was the only Russian player on GKS Katowice.
The number of Russians in the PHL and Poland will continue to be controversial. Recently TVP Sports 3 announced they would not be airing Krakow’s quarterfinal games due to the 12 Russian players on the team. Krakow recently won the Continental Cup, a first for a Polish club, with Russian players being a key part of the victories.
The PHL season is fully underway. With plenty of teams facing a COVID-19 related cut to their roster. This left plenty of roster spaces open for young players to earn. COVID-19 also caused PZHL U23 to be left out of the plans for the hockey year. It also left many players without a way to play a sizable amount of games in the PHL, which is an excellent development experience. If a player were going to get meaningful minutes in the PHL, they would have to prove it to their clubs’ coach that they are ready to contribute in the league.
I think those conditions make it the perfect time to check in on the young talent for each PHL club. I also am setting a goal to pick players that are not as traditionally regarded as a top player. Sure Dominik Pas is a great young player, but he has also been in the PHL for years now. So I am setting a rule of less than 50 PHL games coming into the year.
Cracovia Krakow – Patryk Gosztyla. In the past couple of years, Krakow started to make an apparent effort in bringing in young talent. Gosztyla was part of that initial group. The 6’2 defensemen got a bit lost in the shuffle in 2019 after returning to Poland from the Slovak junior system. This year though, he has cemented himself as part of the Krakow defensemen lineup, already topping his games played total from last year. The 20-year-old also has posted five points (1G-4A-5PTS) in six games in the Polish second league. Honorable Mention: Igor Augustyniak
GKS Tychy – Kacper Gruźla. Gruźla had a breakout year last year in the Polish second league. This earned him a long term spot with PZHL U23 and an appointment to the Polish U20 squad. This year he has run with it playing in six games for GKS Tychy. Since then, he has already impacted the boxscore, recording two goals and two assists. If the 6’1 forward continues his upward trend, he could find himself with a larger PHL and national team role. Honorable Mention: Jan Krzyżek
JKH GKS Jastrzębie – Dawid Wróblewski. Jastrzebie has the most young talent of any team in Poland. With that, a lot of the talent has already played more than 50 games, as a lot of the talent has long been promoted to the PHL. Wróblewski saw a lot of action across different Polish junior teams putting up solid production wherever he went. This year, with Jastrzębie not having a team in Poland’s second league, the 6’4 forward was loaned to Polonia Bytom. There he has put up six goals and six assists in eight games. He should be able to start trying to force his way into the Jastrzebie roster. Honorable Mention: Marcin Płachetka
KH GKS Katowice – Maciej Miarka. Miarka joined the Katowice squad after seeing the logjam of goalies in Jastrzebie. In Katowice, the former Poland U18 and U20 goalie should play quite a few games in the PHL this year. In Katowice, the Łódź native will be backing up veteran Slovakian goalie Juraj Šimboch. So far, in two PHL games this season, the 6’1 goalie has a .912 SV%. Including stopping all seven shots, he faced in relief against defending champs GKS Tychy. Honorable Mention: Marcin Wyśnik
KH Energa Toruń – Oskar Bajwenko. Before we knew if this hockey year would go on at all, Toruń had a team mostly of junior players with a few imports and returning veterans. One of the few junior players from that group to earn a contract was Oskar Bajwenko. Bajwenko is a smaller defenseman but not afraid to go into the corners and get physical. He has received a small amount of junior national team consideration. He is a project. He could develop into a tremendous physical defenseman with two-way abilities. He has only played in one game so far in the PHL, but with the start the club has had this season, it is understandable they may not want to change up the lineup. Honorable Mention; Filip Mazurkiewicz
Podhale Nowy Targ – Ernest Bochnak. Nowy Targ came into this season, emphasizing finding new Polish talent and has already tried out quite a few new young players. This includes Ernest Bochnak. Bochnak comes over after time in the Czech and Finnish junior systems. Last year he played most in the third level of Czech hockey, recording two goals and four assists in twenty-two games. Bochnak has long been one of the best Polish junior players. He now has a chance to show that in Podhale. Through eight games, he has two points notching both a goal and an assist. Honorable Mention: Fabian Kapica
Stoczniowiec Gdansk – Michał Zając. I have many feelings about the club and how they will be as a place for developing young talent. The team will undoubtedly provide a lot of value to young players in terms of ice time. Zając is taking advantage of that, playing in each of the team’s games so far. In those ten matches, he has recorded one goal and three assists. This matches his production from last year with PZHL U23 but in a much smaller role. He is making the most of his opportunities. The 6’1 forward would have easily made the Polish U20 squad if not for COVID. Honorable Mention: Bartosz Wołoszyk
STS Sanok – Jakub Bukowski. Sanok is one of the youngest teams in the PHL, leaving many options for this choice. For their pick, I went with Jabuk Bukowski as he is probably the most pro hockey ready. He showed up well in the pre-season and has done well so far in the regular season. He has three goals and one assist. His point total is tied for third on Sanok. The talented forward showed a lot of potential in smaller Czech and Swiss leagues and now has a great chance to show his skills in Poland. He has been given many top line chances in Sanok, giving him an excellent opportunity to develop further. Honorable Mention: Maciej Witan
Unia Oswiecim – Sebastian Lipiński. While I tried to pick less known players for this list, the gap between Lipiński and the rest of the Oswiecim roster was too big. Lipiński is one of the best young goaltenders Poland has seen in a long time, with few rarely even able to play the amount of PHL games he has at his age. So far, in his lone game this season, he posted a 15 save shutout vs. Gdansk. Honorable Mention: Patryk Kusak
Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Marcel Kotuła. Sosnowiec is another team packed with a lot of young talent, but most of their young talent are seasoned veterans of the PHL. As mentioned in Lipinski’s paragraph, young goalies don’t get those chances in the PHL. This season Marcel Kotuła will compete with 24-year-old Michal Czernik for reps. Last year Kotuła led all goalies in save percentage for the Polish first league. So far through four games between the PHL and Polish first league, he has a .917 SV% along with one shutout. Honorable Mention: Szymon Luszniak
Just a few games into the PHL season and I already feel a bit uneasy about my predictions. KH Torun is now undefeated and leading the league while shutting out their opponents twice already. I haven’t changed my predictions though. The five remaining teams all hold a solid chance of winning the PHL championship. Everyone is going all out this season in the hopes of ending GKS Tychy’s reign of terror.
5. Comarch Cracovia Krakow
2019-20 Finish: 5th
This is my hottest take and the ranking I feel I am most wrong about. You just can never count out Krakow. The offseason was rough for the team as they had to say goodbye to basically every non-young Polish player on their roster. In fact of the nine non-U23 Polish players on the team’s roster from last season only two, Filip Drzewiecki and Robert Kowalówka, are returning. The team is solely made up of imports and young Polish talent.
On the Polish side, all the young Polish players are in for larger roles with the holes in the line-up. Dawid Musioł already made his senior national team debut. Łukasz Kamiński and Sebastian Brynkus really needed more time to further their development. Igor Augustyniak, Mateusz Bezwinski, and Patryk Gosztyla all have great chances to earn full-time spots in the PHL.
Now the imports, they have a major Czech flavor with ten of the eleven imports being from Czechia. Five of them are defensemen. Aleš Ježek and Jiří Gula return to the team after solid seasons in the red and white. Michal Gutwald is a big defenseman at 6’3 and spent the last three years in the Elite Ice Hockey League in the UK. Jakub Šaur joins after quite a few strong years with Unia Oswiecim, including finishing fourth in points among defensemen for the 2019 season. Martin Dudáš returns for a third stint in Krakow. Dudáš has been named captain of the team. In net Michael Petrásek will hold down the fort after posting a .918 SV% in the Chance Liga.
On the forward end, five imports join Filip Drzewiecki and Krakow’s young talent. Erik Němec joins after spending a year between the top two Czech leagues, but posted 70 points in 103 EBEL games. Richard Nejezchleb is a former New York Rangers fourth-round pick in 2014, and spent last year in the second Czechia league. Štěpán Csamangó returns to Krakow after spending last year in the Erste Liga. Csamangó previously posted 41 points (22G, 19A, 41 PTS) in 42 regular games during the 2019 PHL season. Tomáš Franek posted a point per game regular season last year with Podhale Nowy Targ. The lone Finnish import is Taavi Tiala, who posted a .40 point per game average in 322 Mestis games.
Damian Szurowski was the only non-import player to join Krakow from another Polish club. Imports can be very hit in and miss in the PHL. Sometimes you get players that are top scorers and key players easily. Other times you get players that don’t even hold up after a few games and are quickly released. That is the risk Krakow is taking, and they don’t have the depth to make up for the handful of players that won’t live up to what the team hoped. But it feels weird counting them out, even after early struggles.
Role: The New England Patriots
4. GKS Katowice
2019-20 Finish: 6th
Every year GKS Katowice has championship expectations but comes up short. Each year this has resulted in quite a few massive roster changes. This year is no exception to that as the team saw quite a few Polish stars like Marcin Kolusz and Oskar Jaskiewicz head abroad. Top imports like Robin Rahm and Teddy Da Costa also departed. There was a lot of talent coming in though.
On the Polish side Bartosz Fraszko, Maciej Kruczek, and Mateusz Zielinski all joined from rival PHL clubs. Polish players were not the only ones jumping ship to GKS Katowice. As the team signed Filip Stoklasa and Matej Cunik from Zaglebie Sosnowiec, while also bringing back Jesse Rohtla after a year with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. The team made their new goalie, former HK Nitra starter, Juraj Šimboch.
Patryk Krezolek is really poised to be a star on this team. The club also made sure to retain key pieces like Grzegorz Pasiut, Mateusz Michalski, and Patryk Wajda. GKS Katowice has a lot of talent. It is also really nice to see how much of the team is Polish national team talent. This roster is one of the top in the PHL, but not one that I can see taking down the teams I have ranked ahead of them in a best of seven series.
The final day of 2019 is here, and it has been up and down and down year for Polish hockey. The upsides have been on the women’s side, young talent, and the PHL becoming a much more competitive league. The downsides have been on the Men’s senior team and continued backstage messes and drama. We had an article on New Year’s Eve looking at who had the best years in 2019, but today lets look at who needs to rebound after some rough patches in 2019.
Honorable Mentions: Cracovia Krakow, Kasper Bryniczka, Michael Luba, Patrik Spesny, and Risto Dufva
10. Ernest Bochnak
Bochnak saw himself left off an IIHF Polish junior squad once again. He made the Polish U18 squad in his first season of eligibility. He has yet to make a roster since, and his time is up. It is shocking to me that he was never able to get on a roster after his initial U18 appearance, where he recorded three goals and one assist. This year he was able to play professional games in both the second and third Czech leagues. Bochnak is an outstanding junior player, and he’ll find himself on a senior roster, I’m sure of it.
9. Patryk Wronka
Wronka had an outstanding 2018-19 season in the PHL and used that to sign in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) with the Belfast Giants. The highly skilled player got off to a hot start recording two goals and one assist in six Champion League Hockey games, as well as six assists in seven EIHL Cup games. That production did not carry into the regular season, and he only recorded eight points (4-4-8) in 24 games before mutually parting ways with the Giants. Now Wronka has a fresh start with Rapaces deGap of the Synerglace Ligue Magnus. In his first three games in the French league, he has four goals and one assist. Wronka is insanely talented, the EIHL just wasn’t a fit for him. In 2020 he needs to prove that.
Jacek Szopinski has been the head coach of both Orlik Opole and Naprzod Janow over the past two years. These clubs are complete clown shows. Both teams are very uncompetitive. Now Szopinski is not responsible for their financial situation. He is responsible for lying to players, bashing players to other coaches and teams, as well as being regarded as a difficult coach to deal with. Szopinski simply needs to shape up and act like a coach should or get out of the PHL.
7. Zaglebie Sosnowiec
Zaglebie Sosnowiec showed a lot of promise last year in their first season back in the PHL after two final losses in the second league. This year with a full offseason to prepare, they signed the big Russian trio that propelled KH Torun to a strong season. The Russian trio has not been able to replicate their production, and some young players did not take as big of steps that were needed. Now going into 2020, they sit just above Janow in the standings. If the team doesn’t improve, a lot of big changes are going to be needed.
6. Sebastian Lipinski
Sebastian Lipinski looked to have the title of Poland’s best goaltending prospect on lock. In 2018, he had a great performance at the U20 World Championship and led PZHL u23 to their first win. In 2019, he had a disastrous U20 World Championship run and endured an up and down PHL year. His 2019 does include two shutouts as well as some flashes of brilliance in the net. Lipinski has to become more consistent in 2020.
5. Patryk Wysocki
I had Wysocki ranked as my sixteenth best U23 Polish player to end last year. The Belarusian born defensemen had been able to play professionally in Belarus and Poland, while also appearing in the top Russian junior league the Molodyozhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga (MHL). This year he started in the MHL once again with the Chinese junior club but left his team after playing only ten games and receiving very limited ice time. His final game in China took place in October. Wysocki wouldn’t play another hockey game till December when he popped up in the BeNe League, a lower European league composed of teams from Belgium and the Netherlands. There he has two points in four games. It is an odd choice for him, and there isn’t enough information to guess a reason why his season has gone as it has, but he still remains one of Poland’s most developed defensive players for his age.
4. Piotr Sarnik
Piotr Sarnik led the U20 team to a poor performance at the 2019 Division 1B U20 World Championships, but that wasn’t even his biggest challenge at the time. Risto Dufva left GKS Katowice in November to take a job in Finland, leaving behind a GKS Katowice that had not lived up to expectations. Sarnik is now tasked with giving a team identity that doesn’t have one in a PHL that is more competitive than ever. It is going to be quite a challenge for the young coach.
3. GKS Katowice
As mentioned in the last entry, Katowice is supposed to be up there with GKS Tychy. In the past seasons, they seemed to just always be one step behind GKS Tychy. This year GKS Katowice already has as many regulation losses as they did in the last two seasons combined. The season has also been very hard injury-wise with only eight players managing to play all 32 games so far this year. Katowice also released Radosław Sawicki early in the year, and Sawicki currently sits seventh in league scoring. Before the new year, Martin Cakajik left the team after two and a half seasons.GKS Katowice is going to need to regroup fast.
2. Men’s Senior Team
After being demoted to D1B for the first time since 2014, it was only expected to be a one year stop. That was not the case as Poland has continually struggled during 2019, never once show any signs of promise. 2019 saw more players retire or currently suspend their national team career. The team’s depth has taken quite the hit with younger talents not being ready to jump in. They’ll have two big chances at the Olympics Qualifiers and D1B World Championships to prove this team and staff have potential. If neither chances are successful drastic actions will have to be taken.
1. Tomek Valtonen
Simply put, it is sink or swim time. Everything that was a pro about Valtonen never came to fruition. There is some blame on both the coach and the PZHL. What he can control though, he has done poorly, so either win or leave time.