Tag: Maciej Miarka

One Young Player To Watch on Every PHL Team

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 KrakowPatryk 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

Hockey Making A Comeback in Poland’s Comeback City Łódź

The city that could play one of the most significant parts in the future of Polish hockey doesn’t even have a PHL team, and there are no signs that one may be coming any time soon. So why does Łódź matter so much then in the scope of Polish hockey? At 682,000 plus people, Łódź is the third most populated city in Poland. In the PHL, only Kraków (2nd) and Gdańsk (6th) rank inside the top 10 most populated cities and have a PHL team. If hockey really starts to take off in Łódź, it could mean big things for PHL, especially when it comes to getting the league back on television.

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The city of Łódź was one of the largest industrial centers in Poland, especially for textiles,  during the 1960s and through the early 90s. As with many other industrial cities, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe left these cities devastated. The city began to suffer significant population losses, and the textile industry practically vanished. The city started to rebound though in the late 2000s. More and more foreign companies and investors have arisen in the Polish city. The city is renowned for its film school and even nicknamed HollyŁódź due to this school and its name being pronounced woodge.

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The city continues its long comeback. Former textile mills turned into shops and restaurants, giving parts of the city a hipsterish vibe. Along with amazing pieces of street art that have become common on the older buildings. Piotrkowska Street remains a popular shopping and tourist destination. As the local economy has improved, the re-emergence of strong sports clubs has as well. The city hosted the 2009 Eurobasket, along with being home to one of Poland’s top rugby teams.

From 1967 to 1991, the city also hosted a hockey team. LKS Łódź played in the top Polish league. During the 60s and 70s, the team was quite good, often finishing anywhere from fourth to sixth in the league, while also capturing bronze three times, and finishing second once. Polish national team defensemen and Łódź native Jerzy Potz led the team on the backend. In the 80s, the team started to falter, often finishing seventh in the league. Homegrown national team stars like Piotr Zdunek departed for stronger clubs. The team was relegated to Poland’s second league for the first time since 1968 a year after their debut season. After two years in the second league, they would earn promotion to the top level again in 1990. After a 4-38 record though in that season, the hockey team would completely disappear, and the senior hockey squad was liquidated.

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Through the early 90s and early to mid-2000s the only relevancy Łódź had to the hockey world was being the birthplace of Michal Zajkowski,  Sweden’s 2003 World Junior goalie. The Łódź native moved to Sweden from Poland when he was six years old. While LKS Lodz was battling to return to the top of Polish hockey.  Zajkowski spent most of his career in the Svenska hockeyligan (SHL), with MODO Hockey. He bounced around some lower European leagues at the tail of the end of his career but never played in Poland. As the last thing that gave Łódź any relevancy to the hockey world was winding down his career, a new team in Łódź was forming.

Hockey in Łódź didn’t completely die when LKS Łódź left the hockey map in 1991, only three years later LKH Łódź was founded in 1994 by a group of Łódź hockey supporters that were led by sports writer Wojciech Filipiak. This club exclusively focused on the youth side of hockey. 19 years later, the senior squad would be reformed and compete in Poland’s third tier of senior hockey. Just like to approach to junior hockey, they took things slow and steadily built a foundation, but then some quick jumps started to happen.

Maybe these jumps happen because of how solid their groundwork to begin was, but it happen quick. Their youngest teams quickly became top dogs in the Czerkawski Cup, winning it twice in 2018 and 2020, while finishing third in 2019. Their star goaltending prospect and Łódź native Maciej Miarka was named to the 2018 Polish U18 Men’s team. He would be the starting goalie in 2019, along with becoming the first player from the Łódź junior program to play in the PHL. The most significant jump was the senior team moving up to the Polish first league, which was now transformed into a mostly U20 league called the Młodzieżową Hokej Ligą (MHL). The team was able to attract quite a few sponsors along with partnering with former NBA player Marcin Gortat’s athletic school in Poland.

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Photo: Grzegorz Gałasiński

Łódź found itself on the doorstep to the top league of Polish hockey this year. Of course, this was a massive jump as Łódź would be facing off against some of the top junior teams and systems in all of Poland. Former Łódź player Tomasz Matuszewski and player-coach Yuri Zenkov had a tall task in front of them. Tymoteusz Lewy returned to Łódź after playing in the Torun junior system. Lewy posted 27 points (18-9-27) in 24 games, which was 19th in the league. Piotr Ciechanowski returned to Poland after being a strong producer in Danish and German junior ranks, though he only played five games with the club. The team also brought in Russian born defensemen Denis Salnikov, who spent the previous year in the Western States Hockey League. The team also had a few players from Gortat’s school. In total, 44 players suited up for a game this year in Łódź.

Despite trying hard to build a competitive roster, the results were as expected, the team finished second to last in the league. Only picking up four wins in 24 games. While these results are not great, and the average score was a 7-3 loss. This was year one, and they jumped up to compete with top junior teams like JKH GKS Jastrzębie and teams with stronger senior rosters like Sanok, who compete in the third Slovak league as well. Every game was going to be a major uphill battle for the team. Despite the rough results, the future looks bright for Łódź.

The team seemed poised to be a strong recruiter in the import market again, along with their junior roster continuing to develop. Three Łódź players were named to Polish u18 roster lists. Forward Arkadiusz Karasiński, defensemen Adrian Drustinac, and goaltender Tomasz Grobelkiewicz were all appointed to teams last season at various points. Drustinac and Grobelkiewicz standing a strong chance to make the team, after being named to the final roster before the U18s. Grobelkiewicz and Karasiński only appeared in six combined games for Łódź this year in the MHL, while Dusrstinac was a regular defenseman for the team.

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These three are not the only young players making great strides. Poznan native Jakub Biernacki, who spent time in the Łódź junior system, finished 12th in scoring in Germany’s second U17 league.  Oliwier Kowalczyk made the Zietara Polish Eagles team that plays in the youth Quebec Interventional tournament. Łódź’s u12 squad finished first in the Żak Młodszy KPOZHL with an astounding plus 322 goal differential in 14 matches. The team has a lot of promising youth talent that they should be able to establish a robust senior foundation.

The Łódź area is also starting to have an impact on women’s hockey. Polish national team and Gdansk defensemen Natalia Kaminska was born in Łódź, while promising prospect Magdalena Łąpieś played with the Łódź’s boys U12 and u14 squad, before moving to the Gdansk women’s team.

Hockey in the city took another significant step with the addition of a senior team, and while it may be a long time till the next step is taken. The youth talent they are starting to produce is outrageously good for a club of their size. Last year only seven Polish clubs had a player named to the Polish U18 team. Only five of those clubs had more than one player. Clubs like Łódź are not supposed to produce national team quality talent, but they have! Even rarer when you consider two of them are goaltenders. There is potentially something special that is building in Łódź. Hockey is making a comeback in Poland’s comeback city.

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2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #50-41

This year was a pivotal year for Polish hockey. For many players that frequented the list last year or in the years past it was onto full-time professional hockey in Poland or testing their skills in another countries highest junior league, while plenty of players arose to challenge and cemented themselves as future pillars of the national team plenty of players couldn’t live up to their expectations causing drastic changes to the rankings.

This is not the time I wanted to start the list, as the World Championship and U18 World Championship are a great way for players to improve their stock, the U18 World Championship being the first significant exposure for a lot of players. Due to the coronavirus, there are no more tournaments, and hockey is done for the year. Polish hockey itself faces an uncertain future as the virus will leave a lasting effect for years to come.

The real world is a very dark and scary place right now, but I want to look forward to the future while stuck at home. The future of the Polish national team is something that fans should be excited about. I have maintained for years that Poland has more young talent right now then it did any other time this century. I still stand by that opinion today. Poland saw their ace prospect prove himself in professional North American hockey, another NHL draft prospect rise, and a vast increase in depth. Today we start our ranking of the top 50 Men’s U23 players in Poland.

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on March 27th, 2020. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. While a majority of the ranking is my own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. 140 players were considered for the list and scouted. 80 players received a ranking, players 80-51 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 50 players receive a scouting report.

Honorable Mentions (In No Order): Adrian Gromadzki (Not eligible due to age, but would have made top 50 if old enough), Bartosz Woloszyk, Adrian Duszak, Wiktor Bochnak, and Patryk Gosztyla

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking)

50 – Patryk Wysocki (D), 21, Antwerp Phantoms, (16, -34)

We start this year’s list off with a major fall. Wysocki started the year in the top Russian junior league with ORG Junior Beijing. The promising stay at home defensemen finished last season with the Chinese junior team that plays in the top Russia junior league after being recruited by Andrei Parfenov, the former head coach of the Polish junior program. Parfenov took a job in the VHL for the 2020 season. While new head coach Yevgeni Yesaulov gave him a chance, in the beginning, the 5’11 Gdansk product eventually disappeared from the lineup.  He played his last game for the team on October 10th, where he played just under six minutes. In early December, he showed up in the Belgium league, recording four assists in 14 games for the Antwerp Phantoms. A step back year for a defenseman that is good enough to be at the top level, but not enough to secure a permanent spot.

49 – Kacper Gruzla (F), 20, MOSM Tychy (Unranked)

Gruzla makes his debut on the list after a promising performance at the U20 World Championship and solid junior league season. Gruzla posted two goals for Poland, one an empty netter,  at the U20 World Championship. He also made his senior debut for GKS Tychy, along with playing in the PHL for PZHL U23. In 15 PHL games, he posted both a goal and assist. His best offensive success came with Mosm Tychy, where he recorded 22 goals and 19 assists in 26 games in Poland’s MHL, which was eighth in the league. Lots of flashes of potential, but he is someone who needs to play against stronger talent more.

48 – Szymon Radzieńciak (D), 20, HC Ocelari Trinec U20, (66, +18)

Radzieńciak is mirroring the development of his brother Grzegorz Radzieńciak. While his brother Grzegorz has flashed more of a two-way game, Radzieńciak is more one dimensional with defensive being his specialty. The 6’2 defensemen represented Poland at the 2018 U18s and was under consideration for a spot on this year’s U20 squad. The long time HC Ocelari Trinec junior player had two assists in 30 DHL games, along with appearing in two games for the PZHL U23 squad.

47 – Mateusz Zieliński (D), 23, KH Torun, (70, +23)

Zieliński took a big jump this year, becoming a larger part of the KH Torun defense. Coming into this season, Zieliński had 11 points in his previous 125 PHL games, this year in 50 games, the 6’0 defensemen had 12 points (3-9-12). This was second among all U23 defensemen for points. He played more and more than handled that challenge, especially as Torun tested plenty of import defensemen that he was able to outplay.

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46 – Igor Augustyniak (F), 19, Cracovia Kraków, (59, +13)

Augustyniak moved to the Krakow program this year after spending his entire junior career with Polonia Bytom. In his first year with Krakow, he was able to play more in the PHL, recording six games with Krakow, along with playing nine games for PZHL U23, where he recorded a goal and an assist. This came on top of a great junior league season, where Augustyniak posted 34 points (21-13-34) in 21 games, tied for twelfth in the league. The 5’9 forward should have a strong chance at making Poland’s U20 squad next year.

45 – Szymon Dobosz (F), 18, UKS Sanok, (43, -2)

Dobosz is one of the players that probably suffered the most from the cancellation of the U18s, as he would have no doubt been a leader on that squad. At an earlier U18 tournament in Hungary, he recorded four points (1-3-4) in three games. This year his season was split between PZHL U23, along with both Sanok’s U20 team and their Sovak second Liga team. In the PZHL U23, he recorded one assist in seven games. In Slovakia, he recorded eight points (4-4-8) in 16 games, down from 14 points last year. In limited U20 action, the career Sanok junior player recorded 15 points (8-7-15) in nine games. Dobosz already received U20 squad consideration this year, so I would say he has an outside chance at making it next year.

44 – Marcel Kotuła (G), 19, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (79, +35)

Last year I feel I didn’t give enough credit to goaltenders on the list, and I wanted to change that for this year. Statistics really don’t paint young goalies in a good light in Poland, given they face 40 plus shots in PZHL U23 games. Kotuła was a victim of that posting a .829 sv% in eight games with PZHL U23. When not on loan to the Polish U23 squad, he was much better. He saved 16 out of 17 shots against Janow in his lone PHL game for Sosnowiec this year and posted a .912 sv% in 18 U20 league games. His .912 sv% was the best among goalies with at least ten matches. He received some U20 squad consideration this season and most likely will have a spot on the squad in 2020.

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43 – Michał Zając (F), 19, Polonia Bytom, (67, +24)

Zając had a great year despite not being able to log minutes for a club in the PHL. In ten games with PZHL U23, he posted 4 points (2-2-4). In a season where PZHL U23 didn’t have many consistent offensive options, this was tied for third on the team in scoring. He also appeared on the Poland U18 team that plays in the Czech third-tier u20 league, where he posted eight points (5-3-8) in seven games. He also played for Polonia Bytom in Poland’s MHL recording another eight points (3-5-8) in ten games. He had some early U20 consideration and should be a strong candidate for next season. He is a good goal scorer, but a lot of his game needs refinement.

42 – Maciej Miarka (G), 19, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (51, +9)

The main reason why Miarka is rising this year is me wanting to give goalies more credit, but I would call this a season Miarka might just want to bury and forget. It seemed no matter where the Lodz native went, he was lit up with not much help. He posted a .847 sv% for PZHL U23 in ten games as the team’s main goalie. Then at the U20 World Championship, in back-up duty, Miarka posted a .775 SV%, Poland needed a third-string with how bad he and Lipinski performed. In his two junior games, he posted a .891 sv% allowing 8 goals in two games. His lone bright spot came in five third-tier Czech U20 league games, where he posted .092 GAA. A season to forget for a very young and talented goalie who showed how promising they are at the U18 level previously.

41 – Armen Khoperia (D), 20, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (32, -9)

Armen Khoperia dropped in the rankings through nothing of his own fault, just the inject of new talent and players making larger jumps. Khoperia had a great year becoming a full-time PHL defenseman at just 19-years-old. In 38 games between PZHL U23 and Zaglebie Sosnowiec, with a majority coming with Sosnowiec, the 6’2 defensemen posted four points (1-3-4). Khoperia is really developing well and should start working his way towards becoming a member of the senior national team. He represented Poland at the U20 World Championships this year, posting two assists in five games.

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Players 40-31

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.