My favorite month of the year is here! Why is it April? Three of Poland’s national teams are in IIHF action, the sport’s busiest time of the year. With that, getting lost in the hockey action can be easy. So we wanted to list who we will keep an eye on this year at the U18s. I don’t know how I feel about the team this year, but one thing for sure is that they will be quite a different team. This year the team is being led by Belarusian head coach Andrei Gusov. Gusov needs no introduction to Polish fans, previously winning a PHL championship with GKS Tyhcy. On his resume, you’ll also see he is formerly a KHL head coach and member of the Belarus national team staff. Will the new coach and some standout talent be able to keep Poland in Divison 1 Group B?
Igor Tyczyński & Maksymilian Kura
Igor Tyczyński may be the future of the Polish national team in the net. After a strong season in the MHL with Cracovia in 2022, he spent most of the 2023 season with Team Poland U16 in the Czech U17 second league. When we go back to exhibition games in December, he played in both, stopping 38 out of the 41 shots he faced and four out of five shooters in the shootout vs. Hungary. I have a lot of excitement for what is to come with him. He only played in two MHL games this year, one with Janow and one with SMS PZHL Katowice.
The starter of SMS PZHL Katowice was last year’s U18 backup Maksymilian Kura, who is also returning to the squad. Kura led the MHL in save percentage with .939 in 15 games and stayed strong in the playoffs. His fantastic MHL performance puts Kura in the lead role for the starter spot. When we look at previous U18 starters, they have all been either the starter or split starter for SMS PZHL Katowice at the past few events.
Maybe a new coach would change that philosophy of thinking. At the most recent tournament in Bytom, Kura started once, posting an 18-save game with 4 goals allowed versus Lithuania. He would back up Tyczyński in the next two games, who pitched a 32-save shutout versus Hungary and a 24-save performance with two allowed versus Estonia. I think these are the two for Poland, and it will be fascinating to see who gets the start. Based on how both have played, I feel Poland is in good hands.
Now that we know the net is in good hands, let’s look at the first line of defense. One of the leading defenders that will be returning is Karol Sobecki. Last year at the event, he scored twice and added an assist. His three points tied for third on Poland. This year, he made a jump I didn’t anticipate in turning professional with GKS Tychy. He spent most of the year with the top club, playing in 18 PHL games. That senior experience in such a great club did wonders for his development, and I’m super interested to see him back this year.
Our next defender is also blazing quite a few trails as well. Chodor has good size and can do just about everything on the ice. It was not too much of a surprise when he made the Polish U20 team this year, and that should also make him an automatic lock for a U18 return. Chodor is a player that just needs a breakout moment and is someone I could see strong clubs abroad loving, especially those in North America. This tournament could be it! Of course, Chodor had a strong year at home for SMS PZHL Katowice. In the MHL, he led all defensemen with 30 points (13G-17A-30PTS) in 35 games. Another U18 team defender, Michal Starosciak from Sanok, was behind him with 26 points (10G-16A-26PTS). It seems like Poland will have some solid two-way options at the event.
Now we go to a player I am watching because I know very little about them, probably like you. Marzec is a defenseman with both Polish and Swedish citizenship. He developed in the Södertälje SK youth system before moving to Järna SK J18 in 2021. He has done well in Sweden’s J18 Div1 with 19 points (4G-15A-19PTS) in 22 games. He also appeared in the year’s first five U18 exhibition matches but did not appear in Bytom during early February. It is hard to know what Poland has in him, but growing up in such a different development system has me more than intrigued.
Lisowski was one of the Polish forwards we were the most excited to follow this year. In 2022, had a great year in the top level of U18 hockey in Finland, with 38 points in 44 games. This year that production saw a bit of a drop, with nine goals and ten assists for 19 points in 38 games. Now a significant factor was moving from Kiekko-Espoo’s challenger squad to their primary team. That puts him up on another level with some better coaching and teammates. His performance at the U18s could be a good way for him to put a cherry on top of a strong season.
The Suite Life of Jakub and Jonasz
Poland might be looking for twin magic at the upcoming event, as twins Jakub and Jonasz Hofman will likely make their IIHF debuts. The 17-year-old brothers have good size and were a solid scoring threat on SMS PZHL Katowice in the MHL and with Janow in the U18 league. Jakub Hofman finished with 18 points (10G-8A-18PTS) in 24 games. Jonasz just edged out his brother with 20 points (13G-7A-20PTS) in 27 games. The brothers finished sixth and seventh in MHL scoring among U18 skaters. Their Janow and Katowice teammate Maksymilian Dawid was able to edge them out in MHL scoring with 26 points. Given the trio’s chemistry, I imagine they might be a line for Poland at the U18s. Other forward options for Poland include Dawid Lojas, Rafał Drabik, and Sebastian Wojciechowski, who have all performed well for Poland at non-IIHF events.
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