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.
Patryk Wronka has signed with the Belfast Giants in the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) according to hokej.net. Wronka said on the signing “Moving to the Elite Ice Hockey League is definitely a step forward. I got a nice offer and I want to use it.” Wronka also confirmed that he did have other offers and that he chose Belfast because of how hard General Manager and coached pushed for him.
Wronka is currently one of the best Polish hockey players alive and just finished a solid performance at the World Championships in Group B, where he had 5 points (2G, 3A) in 5 games. Wronka was also named the best forward of the tournament. Wronka has played in the PHL the last two seasons with GKS Katowice, where he able to capture a silver and bronze medal. In 2018-19, he lead the PHL in points with 55 (21 G, 34 A). This is not Wronka’s first time that he will be playing away form Poland either, as he suited up for Orli Znojmo (EBEL) in 2016-17. Before that Wronka spent his entire professional and junior career with Podhale Nowy Targ.
The Belfast Giants are one of the premier teams in the EIHL. The Belfast Giants were the best team in the 2018-19 regular season with 45 wins in 60 games. They would make it all the way to the EIHL finals, losing to the Cardiff Devils. Since 2009-10, the Giants have made 4 EIHL final appearances, 3 regular season titles, and one EIHL championship. This offseason the team has lost Colin Shields and Dustin Johner to retirement, as well as Blair Riley and Josh Roach to free agency. It won’t be too long before Polish fans see Wronka face off against a top Polish team again as the Belfast Giants will face Cracovia Krakow in the Continental Cup.
This tournament was a fitting end for the hockey year in Poland. Poland came out strong taking down the Netherlands and Ukraine in dominant fashion, only before losing a hard-fought game to Romania. Then once their backs were against the wall and they needed to prove themselves they won but played a poor game against Estonia. Then in their final game with nothing to play for, they played a nothing game beating Japan 7-4.
The Kapica Show
Damian Kapica had an amazing tournament. His 5 goal performance against Ukraine was a sight to see. He had one of the best tournaments production wise ever in the history of Polish hockey. He is only the 19th polish player to score 6 or more goals at the World Championship and the first since Damian Slabon in 2002-03. He recorded 10 total points, which is tied for the 15th most on Poland at a World Championship.
Throw Away the Powerplay
This powerplay was absolute trash. There is no other way to describe it. Going 2 for 15, only above relegated Netherlands, is a joke. With how much Poland scored in this tournament I don’t know how their powerplay was so bad. It was awful to watch. Tomek Valtonen and staff better have some idea how to fix if they want to keep their jobs.
The Youth Movement
There was a decent amount of youth at this tournament and they impressed. I really liked seeing Goscinski in particular. His play really stood out to me. He always seemed to be around or had the puck when he was on the ice. Alan Lyszczarczyk, Bartlomiej Jeziorski, Oskar Jaskiewicz, and Patryk Wronka all had strong tournaments as well so if you want something to put your hopes in it is them.
The Estonia Game vs. The Romania Game
There was a vast difference between the Romania game and the Estonia game. The Romania game showed a team Poland that was fierce and hungry. They wanted to win, they played their hearts out and honestly just got unlucky at times or just couldn’t finish for whatever reason. It was a team that even though they lost didn’t play bad. The Estonia game was the absolute opposite. They looked dead, they looked like they did not care. They were just breezing through and they just barely got by. They let Estonia hang in and took so many unnecessary penalties. After that game, regardless of if Poland got gold, I knew they deserved to be in Group B.
What is next? I don’t know. It is hard to know with Polish hockey. Is the PZHL going to be so distraught with Tomek Valtonen that they fire him, like how Ted Nolan was ousted after only one year? Will more player quit the national team? Will any players actually leave Poland this year while casting doubt on the PHL’s ability to develop them as a player? All these questions will get answered over the coming weeks. Everyone today is already trying to figure what is to blame. There are also those saying Poland is doomed or that open league will kill Poland off. It is a very upset environment with some laughing at the failure. In my preview for the tournament, I said I did not know if last year was the darkest it will get for Poland or if Valtonen was the dawn. It has got darker for Poland and the jury is still out on Valtonen. I do believe the dawn is coming though. There is more young talent right now for Poland than any other period in the last decade. There are changes that are hopefully coming to the PHL. Hopefully, more players will look outside of Poland to improve and challenge themselves. The dawn is on the horizon if Poland can capitalize on it.
– In the game against Romania we got to see Patryk Wronka in 3 on 3 overtime and pump that into my veins I need more. Wronka is such a fast and creative player that 3 on 3 fits him so well. It was so exciting to watch.
– Malasinski would only have one point at this tournament and it came on the final day against Japan. For a player who is supposed to be an offensive leader for Poland he now just has 2 assist and no goals in the last two World Championships.
– Bartosz Ciura has now finished another international tournament without recording a point. He has now played 60 senior games with the national team and has zero points.
– Hats off to the Netherlands, in their final game they took it to Romania. It was probably the second hardest game for Romania.
– Congrats Romania, you were supposed to be the easy game in this tournament, but you proved everyone wrong.
– IIHF Site and Records are awful. I hate the new site layout and how long it now takes to get as simple statistics like shots. There is so much less information now as well. When you add in the IIHF is trash as achieving their own history, so not even dedicated writers and fans can track it for them now, it is a complete mess.
– Rest in Peace to Jason Botchford. Botch may not be really well known in our hockey circle. By title, he was a beat writer for the Vancouver Canucks, but to fans in the Canucks community, he was so much more. There was no writer better than Botch, the way he was able to be both entertaining and informative. He was so witty and able to switch his tone immediately, but it was not jarring. He will never be matched. He deserved to be covering the biggest hockey events but instead covered the Canucks, one of the worst franchises by record this decade. He had a passion for the Canucks though, he was more passionate than anyone else about the team. Starting as a teenager and continuing onto this year, I would stay up till past 1 a.m. to read his series the “Provies” (later The Athletties). He was my writing inspiration and the 5 Thoughts format was inspired by his work. I had the honor of meeting him this year in Detroit. This was my first season working in public relations in the NHL, and I was terrified for the most part to speak to the media out of turn. I approached Botch though just to simply say hi and that I enjoyed his work. Instead, it turned into a full conversation where he asked about my life and job. He was so nice, sincere, and encouraging. This is the story that everyone seems to have about him. There will never be another Botch.
I won’t lie; there is not much positive around the men’s national team right now. Everything that could go wrong is seeming to. I usually try to be more positive and look for the good. It is hard to do that right now with the state of the national team.
It is kinda hard to believe how well things appeared to be going at the start, to be honest. The Euro Ice Hockey tournament was a success for Poland on the ice. With Valtonen at the helm, the team looked sharp in their game against a much better Denmark team. They even held the lead til that game had to be suspended due to poor ice conditions. The rest of the tournament wasn’t that bad either. Poland was able to at least hold their own against much stronger competition. They lost to Norway 4-2. In the loss, they mounted a comeback after being down 3 goals early. Bartlomiej Neupauer scored at the 34-minute mark to bring Poland within one, and it would remain that way till there 5 minutes left when Norway added an insurance goal. Austria would shut Poland out 2-0, but the shot margin was only 13 with the final shots being 37-24. Again not cause to celebrate, but a sign Poland could still compete in Division 1 Group A if they get promoted back like most believe they will. This came at the same time as a protest from Polish players, who rightfully want better working conditions. Add in the fact their point was further proven when Noureddine Bettahar was injured at a practice for the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. The concussion kept him out of action for a while and kinda detailed what initially was a strong comeback campaign in the DEL 2. Given the weak roster, it was encouraging, especially for the new head coach Tomek Valtonen. I mean Valtonen was able to get a pretty good performance out of a team featuring a lot of players who previously never were in the national team consideration. It was enough to somewhat overlook some of the national team problems at the time while hoping for a solution to be reached.
The competitions after the first Euro Ice Hockey Challenge were not as good for Team Poland. The first of these was taking the team to Finland to face off against two Mestis teams. This trip reminded me of Ted Nolan’s trip to Canada, where Poland lost to a Canadian college team and a semi-pro squad. Poland faced off against TUTO hockey and KeuPa HT. Poland lost both games by one goal, taking TUTO hockey to overtime. Adding two more losses to the winless national team on the year. For reference about the strength of the two squads. TUTO Hockey finished 5th, and Keupa HT finished 8th. As of writing this both teams made it out of the first round of the league playoffs and are still playing. These trips never look good on paper, but I do believe they are a good experience for players. The big thing is that you just have to temper your expectations and really realize the divide between Poland and top countries like Canada and Finland. It does suck to see your country lose though to competition that is not near the national team of the league’s nation.
In February during the second international break, Poland was not entered into a second Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. The national team instead played in a small tournament in Ukraine. This had them taking on Ukraine and Romania. The first game went as it should with Poland easily defeating Ukraine 5-1. There is not much to say about the game other than being the first national team win of the year. The second game is the story of this tournament as Poland was shutout by Romania 2-0. The first loss to Romania since 1980. An inexcusable performance and a team Poland should never lose to. How do you expect to get promoted to Division 1 Group A with loses to Romania? They are in Poland’s group this year for the Worlds. It was only a hint of things to come for Poland against their future Worlds rivals though.
Hungary and Poland. The largest rival of the national team. Two hockey countries that are heading in vastly different directions and I don’t think it showed as much til their exhibition games this year. Yes in these games Poland was playing with the lesser squad since the PHL finals were going on, but it is only eight players and for sure not the eight best. The first game was fine. It was not the best game ever by Poland, but they took Hungary to the shootout and loss 2-1. The shots were 45-35, but overall a good result versus a stronger team. The only way to describe the second game was embarrassing for Polish hockey. The final score was 4-2 with the shots being 53-17 in favor of Hungary. Add in 39 penalty minutes for Poland, and you get just an awful performance. A performance that shows Poland doesn’t belong in Division 1 Group A.
Now the final test before the World Championships. Poland playing a team that will be their rival in Group B in Lithuania. The first game Poland would win 6-5 in overtime only after some late-game heroics. Sure they won, but not at all the performance that you would want to see. Poland had one more chance to fix this before the World Championships and show who team Poland really is. They lost 3-0. Poland has now been shutout twice this year by their Group B competition. This loss was deflating. That is the best way to describe it. The men’s national team has been this long combination of things building up, and this loss is the thing that finally breaks the dam open. It would not shock me at all if Poland failed to get promotion this year and stayed in Group B.
During the season though, it felt like the hits kept coming towards Poland’s way. Whether it was injuries or players just merely hanging up on their national team career. In total 6 players will never represent Poland again. This includes one of Poland’s best centers with Grzegorz Pasiut. Strong role players Jakub Witecki and Radoslaw Galant will longer help a Poland forechecking and defensive line. Imports whose national team careers really never got to be fleshed out in Mike Cichy and Alex Szczechura. They will no longer potentially have the impact that imports have had for rivals like Great Britain or Kazaksthan. All of the players that are done with the national team are under 32 years old. This really put a massive dent in Poland’s forward depth.
This last month though has pretty much been the roughest for Poland. Like these disputes and problems that arise only happen in Poland it seems. I cover and follow other international hockey and the things that pop up in Poland never cease to amaze me at times.
Both involve new head coach Tomek Valtonen. It was announced previously during the year that Valtnonen would be leaving Podhale after one season as coach in the PHL. Now, this was concerning and a bit of disappointment. Part of the selling points for Valtonen as the head coach of team Poland was the fact that he would be in Poland year round. This was a huge problem during the Ted Nolan season, and it was clear Nolan pretty much had no idea of the players or where he was coaching. Valtonen though was going to be here and see all the players in the PHL. This was important as we all know the players outside the PHL like Dronia or Chmielewski will make the team alone on their pure permit. They don’t have to be scouted. There are no tough decisions with them. The tough decisions come with players that are inside the PHL as there is not much that separate them. There are differences between them to create the best possible roster, and unless the head coach is in Poland full time, he won’t be able to see that. The national team right now has a single player who played outside of Poland this year, and it’s Poland’s best young talent in Łyszczarczyk. Outside of him, all other 22 players are in the PHL. The head coaching job relies heavily on knowledge of the PHL. Valtonen leaving is bad from that side, but it does become a bit more suspect. The reason announced why Valtoenen was leaving was he missed his family, but the next job he takes is in the DEL 2? Did something go wrong with Podhale? Was there something wrong with Poland? It is the questions that get raised.
The second issue that involved in Valtonen and is, of course, something that I believe could only happen in Poland is the equipment issue. After a hard fought finals players from Cracovia Krakow showed up without their equipment as their PHL team would not be sending it. Leaving the players without gear to play in. This has led to national team defensemen Maciej Kruczek having to leave the national team and take his name out the of running. Another hit to Poland’s defensive depth. Valtonen offered to pay for the equipment with his money but said he never got a reply. Only for Cracovia to show text messages showing they replied.
I am sure that if I dug deeper, I could find the precise answer and stories to these events, but I have no desire to. It feels so much like the dumbest combination of egos, pettiness, and silly high school drama that I really have no interest in covering it. This was going on at the same time as the Women’s World Championships and Men’s U18s Championship’s two more important things I invested my time in. In the end, they will go down like most drama in Poland, both sides saying something different and accusing each other of lying. Much like Mike Danton or Wojiech Stachowiak. I mean Valtonen was obviously given a raw deal or tougher job than Nolan here with how many players seemingly quitting the national team after being so fed up with the PZHL so let’s just draw it even.
The biggest question that comes up with Valtonen team is why is there not even the slightest thread of consistency. How are they able to lead against Denmark, but get shutout by Romania and Lithuania? There were similar tones under Nolan. The inconsistency of this team is astounding. How does it feel to be a player in that locker room right? Knowing how many guys that you fought with, blocked shots for, or had your blood spilled for have quit for valid reasons. You see the team that once fought for promotion to the top division fall to teams that fail to get promoted to Group A. How does it feel in that locker room right now?
Besides the players who hung up their national team career like always, Poland is facing a rash of injuries and other events that will further decrease the depth of the national team. Pawel Dronia and Aron Chmielewski will both not be with the team as their club team is still in the playoffs. Both are playing for a championship so depending on how long the series goes will determine when or if they join. Krzysztof Zapala will not be with the team so he can be with his wife during the birth of his child. Huge congratulations to Krzysztof and his family on the new child. His veteran presence will be missed though, and add in even in his late 30s Zapala could get it done offensively.
Playing in his 8th straight World Championship for Poland, Krzysztof Zapala scores Poland's first goal of the tournament! 1-0 🇵🇱 pic.twitter.com/Igfi9trxhG
On the injury side, Poland took their hits as well. Bartosz Fraszko is out. Which really is a shame. The 23-year-old has always been highly regarded but was really starting to put it together. This would have been his senior IIHF debut, and against some lower division, it would be an excellent way to ease into the national team. The bigger hits came on the defense were Poland will be without three defensemen; Damian Tomasik, Jakub Wanacki, and Mateusz Rompkowski. Tomasik is a big let down for me, I have been a fan of his game for a while and last year was his first shot, but he was playing injured. Tomasik was initially ruled out for the tournament last year but played through his ailment after more injuries hit the squad. Wanacki has been a key part of Poland’s defense since 2013-14, he has played in 4 of the 5 world championships. Rompkowski is the most significant loss. He is a great veteran defender. He has been a staple of team Poland for 11 years, playing for the team in some IIHF capacity whether at the Worlds or Olympic qualifiers. Poland’s defense can be really rocky at times, so losing national team staples is quite scary.
The Final Roster
Thanks to hokej.net we have the final roster for Poland. Here is it by position and defensive handedness. There are only two players on the roster with right-handed shots which struck me as odd. Players in bold are making their senior IIHF debut.
This is my projected line up as the rosters sit right now. If Dronia or Chmielewski are available, they are automatically first paring or line for me.
For all comments that I will be leaving for players, I’m not really going to suggest players that I think are snubs or should have made it over a different player mostly because with the state of the national team it is hard to say who will play. If they would have played though, I would have loved to see Dominik Pas and Jan Soltys get a chance with the national team. Both had previously played on some of Valtonen’s squads.
Adam Domogala – Domogala is finally making his IIHF senior national team debut. A debut that a lot thought would come a lot sooner. At 19-years-old, Domogala was able to be above a point per game in the Oberliga. He signed in the DEL 2, but there was never able to capture his scoring touch. He moved to the PHL in 2015-16, but still faced some offensive struggles. This year he posted a new career high points and a solid playoff run. It appears he is finally turning the corner. I’m really excited that he is getting his IIHF chance.
Alan Lyszczarczyk – Currently the most important player in Polish hockey. A lot of Poland’s future success relies on his development. Lyszczarczyk had a career year in his final OHL season. I would imagine we see him sign in the Czech league this offseason if no North American professional offer materializes. Last year, he got his first taste of the national team and will be joined be Jeziorski, whom he has shown a lot of chemistry with at junior events.
Bartlomiej Jeziorski – Jeziorski will be making his 2nd IIHF senior team appearance. Quite the impressive accomplishment for only being 21. He has dominated the IIHF at junior stages and been quite the scorer in the PHL, while his production this season was not at the levels many would have hoped for. I feel this more due to the strength of the GKS Tychy offense were Jeziorski just got the short end of the stick for playing time and offensive opportunities. His chemistry with Lyszczarczyk will be fun to see at the IIHF stage.
Bartlomiej Neupauer – seems to get a lot of love from coaches outside of Poland. Nolan gave him his first national team chances last year, and Valtonen continues to provide him with opportunities as well. Neupauer has done well in those chances recording five goals in 18 games with the national team making him one of the team’s top scorers in that span. National team coach Tomek Valtonen described him as a player he could count on. Something I feel we see in a lot of roster choices in regards to Podhale players.
Damian Kapica – one of the most talented forwards in Poland. Kapica has been able to score some stunning goals. He really has some solid puck handling skills and great offensive instinct. A really strong player that would probably best serve the team anchoring his own 2nd line.
Filip Komorski – he made his senior national team IIHF debut last year and would score one goal. He had a really good year offensively reaching point per game mark in the regular season. He is the exact kind of solid player that this Poland team is lacking. He isn’t going to lead the team, but can play on any line and not be out of place.
Filip Starzynski – previously one of Poland’s best prospects, Filip had a rough go awhile. He took a whole Freshman year off from hockey. Then in his three seasons at Northern Michigan, he never was able to get going on the score sheet much. He played mostly a 4th line center shut down role. He was good in the faceoff circle, and I expect him to play a similar role for Poland.
Krystian Dziubinski – Valtonen gave a lot of praise to the 30-year-old forward. Citing his hard work and character. He also named him the polish player who would excel the most in Finland. Dziubinski has been a staple of the national team since he was 21. His consistent play is really unmatched.
Mateusz Goscinski – Another young player getting a chance at the biggest show of the year for team Poland. He and Jeziorski have been a nice young combo of polish forwards for GKS Tychy. I slot him on that line with Jeziorski and Lyszczarczyk. Let the kids run wild.
Mateusz Michalski – Another player who was able to impress Valtonen from their time in Podhale. Michalski was able to quickly pick up his system according to Valtonen. This is a desirable trait given the mismatch of players for Ted Nolan’s scheme. Michalski will be killing penalties for Poland along with being able to contribute offensively. He gets the first line nod for me given his size, and defensive ability should be able to compliment Wronka and Malasinski nicely.
Patryk Wronka – the best Polish player in hockey right now. No one matches the offensive creativity of Wronka on team Poland. When he was not available for the team last year, it was a huge blow. Current rumors suggest that Wronka maybe leaving Poland with interest from Belarus, Slovakia, Great Britain, and Germany (DEL2) per hokej.net. Wronka should carve up the competition at this event, and it will be fun to see.
Szymon Marzec – probably the most unheard of forward. Marzec is not a great offensive player and never posted substantial offensive numbers in the PHL. He actually had never received any national team attention til this year. He has played four games for team Poland and recorded one assist. He is the odd man out on my line up, and I do not see him playing a significant role.
Tomasz Malasinski – On a team that is missing so many veterans players while having some many young and or debuting players, Malasinski continues to the perfect safety blanket for Poland. Always an offensive leader on the team, like Wronka expect some decent offensive production.
Overall I like the offense this year. Obviously, there are some misses or other choices I would make like Pas, but I also can’t really argue against most players. It may not be stronger than teams in the past, but given the situation it is fine. There is a nice infusion of young players and veterans, along with players that know Valtonen’s system.
Much like the last one, I’m not really going to name snubs or alternatives. The defense has taken a lot of hits and given Poland already didn’t have the greatest defense there is a lot of concerns.
Arkadiusz Kostek – this is a pick that worries me. He has never really shown much potential in the PHL but is still young. He is a solid player there, but on the national team, he may struggle. There isn’t much to say with him.
Bartosz Ciura – he has been apart of team Poland for the last three world championships. He currently is still looking for his first senior point after 43 games. Not a lot of offensive potential another defensive only guy that this defense is full of.
Marcin Kolusz – Kolusz for a long time one of the best forwards for the national team, but for Valtonen he has become a defenseman. I like the move. It opens up a spot on the roster while creating two-way defensemen. His year on defense earned high praised from the national team coach, Valtonen described him as the best defensemen in the PHL. It will be interesting to see how does with his first IIHF test on defense.
Mateusz Bryk – Bryk is another veteran national team defender that Valtonen has to use. Bryk is mainly a defensive guy but does have some offense to his game. He is usually good for one or two points in tournaments for the national team. Bryk will likely be relied on heavily for this team, especially with Dronia’s availability being questioned.
Oskar Jaskiewicz – I have long been a fan of his game. At 22-years-old Jaskiewicz gets to make his senior IIHF debut. He plays a strong two-way game and is precisely what this Polish defense is lacking a lot of. I felt he should have made team Poland last year, but he was left off the roster. Jaskiewicz spent the year in Podhale, so Valtonen has had a long look at him. Jaskiewicz and Valtonen got off to a rough start according to the coach, but by the end of the season, Jaskiewicz gained confidence was the leader on Podhale’s defense.
Patryk Wajda – Wajda is another longtime member of the national team, who should really help bring some consistency to the team. He doesn’t bring much offensively but has a nice defensive game. He is another player who played for Valtonen in Poland this year. He described as a trustable player, who could work on his conditioning. His conditioning led to him getting fewer chances in the playoffs.
Robert Mrugala – This is my least favorite pick on the entire roster. Mrugala has a total of three points over the last three seasons regular seasons and playoffs. As someone who likes defensemen to have some kind of offensive ability, three points in 104 games is not really appealing to me. Mrugala is another player who Valtonen is familiar with Podhale. Valtonen was surprised by how well he played, and how many chances he earned.
This is the group that I have the most doubts with. There are a lot of question marks with them. This group could end up being the Achilles heel of the team. They really need to work on suppressing shots, but if they don’t, their goalies still could bail them out.
There is no position that Poland has more depth or better players at than goaltender. There are about six players who could start for Poland, but the top 3 are pretty easy to identify. In this tournament, I imagine Poland will be going back and forth between their two goalies. An amazing stat about these goalies is they all finished first in the PHL for sv% as part of a three-way tie at .939 sv%.
John Murray – Muray is my favorite of the goalies, this comes down to how aggressive and how well he plays the puck. He honestly is one of the best on Poland at breaking the puck out sometimes. Murray is one of two imports on the national team roster this year, the other being fellow goalie Ondrej Raszka. He is really connected to Polish culture more than most imports in the IIHF. Well, I believe they will be splitting starts, I do think Murray will only play 2 of the 5 games.
Przemysław Odrobny – Odrobny will be getting the extra start of the two. He is the most popular face in Polish hockey, and one of the best personalities. A legend of the national team and one of the best goalies in Poland if not the best. At 33-years-old, there is still a lot left in the tank. He also has the full trust of the national team coach Valtonen, who he played for this year in Podhale. Valtonen called him the best goalie in Poland.
Ondrej Raszka – Raszka will be left as the third wheel again. At 29-years-old he has yet to make his senior IIHF national team debut even as a back up despite being named to the roster plenty of times. Raszka is an extremely talented goalie, and it does suck seeing him having to sit all the time unless an injury occurs. He would be starting most of the competition at the Worlds except for Lithuania.
Easily the most talented group on the team with plenty of depth to spare. Never any worries when it comes to goalies in Poland.
It was thought that the darkest point was the Ted Nolan year and being relegated to Division 1 Group B. It was believed that the dawn was hiring Valtonen. It briefly appeared that things were stepping in the right direction, but it was too dark to see what the direction the steps were being taken in. If Poland stays in Group B is that the new darkest or can it get worse? What are the signs of light that we should follow to see the dawn? There are quite a few things that should be considered lights.
Promotion – Getting promoted would put a lot of the recent darkness to rest. I want to give Valtonen and his staff some slack. They are playing with a team that is definitely not as strong as past squads through no fault of their own. The same thing that I said with Nolan is true for them as well. It takes time to get players into a system and mistakes will be made during that period. Hopefully, most of the major errors are gone for the World Championship. Getting promoted would prove all the doubts wrong and put Poland back where we hope they belong in Division 1A competing for a chance at the Elite division.
Young Talent Does Well – There is a lot of young talent on this roster, and so far in exhibition games, they have done well offensively. If they do well, especially in Valtonen system, it is an excellent sign. Poland has seemed to be stuck in the past too often. Not promoting their young stars, while clingy on to players who won’t get any better or are at the end of their prime. There is a really nice core of young Polish players, and quite a few are on this roster. It could be a really bright light for Poland’s future.
Looking at Poland’s prospects – This one doesn’t involve the World Championships at all. Poland has a lot of great prospects right now who have the skill to play in high levels outside of Poland. Adam Kiedewicz is expected to make his DEL debut at 19 next year. It will be the first time a member of the Polish national has played in the DEL since 2016-17 and only the fourth Polish player this decade. Jakub Lewandowski has had a fantastic year in the top Czech junior league finishing 27th league scoring as 17 years old, which was 8th best among U18 players. He is NHL draft eligible next year. Damian Tyczynski led the Slovakia U20 league in scoring by 18 points. He is forcing his way on HK Propard’s pro team next season. Szymon Bieniek and Klaudiusz Libik maybe the best under 20 defensemen in Poland, both are only 17. They did great in the Czech and Norway junior leagues. Then in Poland Jan Soltys and Kamil Walega lead PZHL U23 to actually being a respectable team that was able to beat professional teams. Soltys is a player you could see drafted in the CHL import draft after reviving interest last season. There are a lot of bright young Polish players who will add to the already good young core lead by Wronka, Łyszczarczyk, Jeziorski, Pas, and others.
New Super League and Tournaments – When Poland was relegated last year, a lot of attention got directed to the PHL. Was it the best place for Polish players? Was it the best for Poland hockey? Now changes have come to the league being more opened to imports increasing the quality of play. Teams will be competing against more teams outside of Poland. GKS Katowice and Podhale will be playing in the Visegrad Cup, GKS Tychy in the Champions Hockey League, and Cracovia in the Continental Cup. There is talk about Polish clubs joining two super leagues one made up of teams from Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia or one with teams from Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine. Much needed change is coming and being discussed. The change is likely to be seen within the next few years.
We will find out soon if it can get any darker for Poland, but if this year is not the dawn, there are plenty of reasons to suggest that dawn is coming. My final expectation is for this team to get promoted even if the road to gold is a bit rockier than people expected. This team is facing a lot of adversity, and that is going to put a chip on their shoulder. One that I think they eager to have while proving people wrong.
In Ted Nolan We Trust? My meme that has become a legitimate question. A question, where I still think the answer is honestly yes. The problems in Poland are bigger than just on the ice. We all know the problems. Who will fix them?
The Nolan Influence
There were at points during the World Championship, where I did see the Ted Nolan style from Poland and it was effective. The North American physical style works in division 1A look no further than Great Britain, who play a game very similar to North America and were promoted. This forechecking team was honestly really fun to watch at points and they dominated the ice when they did. They’re of lesser talent, but when the team was firing on all cylinders of the Ted Nolan engine you would think Poland was the more talented team. This team didn’t stay consistent like that, in fact, a majority of the time they were no were close to it.
Everyone Was Basically Hurt
Injuries played a big part in Poland’s lack of talent and poor play. Maciej Kruczek, Patryk Wronka, Bartosz Dabowski, Grzegorz Pasiut, Kasper Bryniczka, and Jan Steber all missed the tournaments due to injuries. Wronka and Pasiut are top 5 forwards for Poland, Wronka is number 1. Losing them was devastating for the team. Michael Cichy and Adam Borzecki that didn’t play due to retirement and personal reasons. While I have been critical of Cichy’s play with the national team, the potential is there. He dominates the PHL and was an NHL draft pick for a reason. Then even at Borzecki’s 39-year-old season, he was still an effective defenseman. His retirement leaves Pawel Dronia as the lone Polish defensemen playing outside of Poland in a higher league.
Taking a Pass on Pas
Here is the thing that I do think Ted Nolan more than deserves criticism for; his roster choices. First, the initial roster choices come out and I’m not really happy with them. Nolan talks a cultural change, but he brings no change to the table. You could make an argument there is more young talent for Poland to test now than any time in the last decade. Ted Nolan only used Łyszczarczyk. Bartosz Fraszko, Radoslaw Sawicki, Dominik Pas, Bartlomiej Jeziorski, Lukasz Krzemien, and Oskar Jaskiewicz were all players, who I felt could have played on team Poland this year. It would have been great for their careers and development. The biggest one that I would say is a gigantic mistake is cutting Dominik Pas. Pas actually got added to the roster late. He played in Poland’s two exhibition games before being cut. Dominik Pas also had 3 assist in those 2 games. How do you want to promote a cultural change and have a focus on youth than cut Pas after his season and performance?
The Legend of Łyszczarczyk Begins
If you want to name the most important player in Poland hockey then it is Łyszczarczyk. The forward made his first World Championship appearance for Poland and he did well. He didn’t get on the score sheet much with one assist, but he had plenty of chances. He was a force in the opposition’s zone and honestly, it made me believe Łyszczarczyk is ready for pro hockey if he chooses too. He can either return to Owen Sound in the OHL for his overage season or turn pro if a team presents an offer.
That is where Poland will play next year. Poland will take on Japan, Estonia, Ukraine, Romania, and the Netherlands. A far cry from their opponents of the last few years. You see countries you could claim are on the decline like Japan and the Ukraine and hockey countries on the rise like Estonia. Poland will have to decide where they are on this scale. The young talent is there, but the cloud of uncertainty and politics around the PZHL places them on the downside.
Welp, Ted Nolan’s first World Championship appearance for Poland might be a rough one. Yesterday Hokej.net reported that Maciej Kruczek, Patryk Wronka, Damian Tomasik, and Bartosz Dabowski will be out with injuries during the World Championships. Wronka is a huge loss that I do view as unreplaceable. In my roster picks, I also had Tomasik and Kruczek making the team. Three defensemen being out is a hard pill to swallow. Outside of injuries Alan Lyszczarczyk and Owen Sound Attack appear to be making a pretty deep playoff run. In Germany, both Pawel Dronia’s and Adam Borzecki’s club have continued to advance in the playoffs. They are playing each other as I write this. Poland is guaranteed one will be free, but the other will remain an unknown.
Out for Sure
Maciej Kruczek (Injured)
Patryk Wronka (Injured)
Bartosz Dabowski (Injured)
Michael Cichy (Personal Reasons)
Grzegorz Pasiut (Injured)
Kasper Bryniczka (Injured)
Jan Steber (Injured)
Adam Borzecki (Playoffs)
Aron Chmielewski (Playoffs)
Added to the Team
Update 4/18/18. 8:49 PM. Per Hokej.net. Jan Steber was hurt in the pre-championship game against Japan. Lyszczarczyk’s season ended last night and he will join the team.
Update 4/14/18. 2:50 PM. Per Hokej.net The injury Bryniczka suffered in an exhibition game against Ukraine is serious and he will miss the World Championships.
Update 4/14/18. 3:43 PM. Per Hokej.net, Grzegorz Pasiut will not be available for Poland.
Update 4/13/18. 7:44 PM. As Reported by Hokej.net, Damian Tomasik will not undergo hand surgery and is available for Poland.
Update 4/9/18. 3:28 PM. Mateusz Michalski and Kacper Guzik have been added to the team.
Update 4/8/18 5:46 PM. Borzecki’s Steelers eliminated Dronia and Frankfurt. Dronia will be available for the team while this really hurt Borzecki’s chances. Chmielewski scored for HC Oceláři Třinec to help send them to the finals. Game 1 is on the 14th and could go as long as 26th. Chances are very slim for Chmielewski. Lyszczarczyk and Owen Sound are tied 1-1 with the Greyhound in the 2nd Round of the OHL Playoffs. The earliest it could end would be April 13th.
Update 4/7/18 12:46 PM. Michael Cichy has left Poland and returned to the USA for personal reasons.
Update 4/6/18 5:27 PM. Bietigheim Steelers (Borzecki) defeat Löwen Frankfurt (Dronia) 5-2. Steelers take a 3-2 series lead.
Update 4/6/18 3:14 PM. Grzegorz Pasiut could also miss with Injury.
Grzegorz Pasiut po raz drugi z rzędu Mistrzem Białorusi. Napastnik Niomana Grodno grał większość playoff z blokadą, jego gra w reprezentacji Polski stoi pod bardzo dużym znakiem zapytania. Kolejne duże osłabienie kadry. pic.twitter.com/7466yqY4QP
When Ted Nolan released “his” list of 36 for the upcoming World Championships, I was disappointed by a lack of youth. In total there are 4 players under the age of 25. This includes both Patryk Wronka (22) and Alan Lyszczarczyk (20), who are locks to the make the final squad. The other two are Damian Tomasik (23) and Michal Kieler (22). Kieler has no chance of making the team as Poland’s goalie race is a 4 horse race. Despite having no chance of cracking the roster, this will be a valuable experience for him. Tomasik’s chances of making the team are pretty slim. Overall I would expect Wronka and Lyszczarczyk to be the only players under 25 on team Poland.
Now if there were no young players who deserved their shots, I would understand Poland taking veterans, but there were plenty of interesting options. Playing in Poland; Bartosz Fraszko, Radoslaw Sawicki, Dominik Pas, Bartlomiej Jeziorski, Lukasz Krzemien, and Oskar Jaskiewicz all had great seasons and outproduced some of the veterans picked over them. Pas and Jeziorski were a part of the best line in Poland’s World Juniors division. We wrote about why they should make team Poland here. Sawicki, Krzemien, and Jaskiewicz were on the entry list last year when Platcha was coaching Poland. These players have to get their shots when they’re outproducing veterans. Outside of Poland, one player I would argue for sure is Noureddine Bettahar. Bettahar is signed to a DEL team but was loaned to EC Bad Nauheim of the DEL2. He did have some struggles this year with only 13 points in 42 games. He played 27 games in the DEL last year picking up 1 assist and also had 7 points in 8 DEL2 games. Bettahar was also appointed to the team last year, but due to some German contract rules could not play. Last year, Bettahar said he eligible this year to hokej.net. That could have also changed with his demotion to the DEL2, but I have yet to hear anything like that.
I have to ask what is Ted Nolan doing in regards to the youth. It really feels like Poland is going backward in promoting them. It was something Ted Nolan talked a lot about when he first got the job. This really is not a critique, more I was hoping for a different approach. I’m going into this thinking more long term. Not saying Ted Nolan doesn’t have a long-term vision, but he may think in the short term this is his best rosters and relying on veterans is better. Nolan does like to ice a defensive physical team and the veterans will perform better in it. Especially if young offensive players cannot take on a top 6 role they will be reduced to little impact in a checking role. If Ted Nolan gets results, who am I to judge.
April is just around the corner and with that comes the biggest event of the year for the Polish National team. The World Championships in Budapest have fans divided some are believing in Ted Nolan, while others have their doubts. We now have his first World Championship entry list though, and let us dive in.
Przemysław Odrobny, John Murray, Rafal Radziszewski, Ondrej Raszka, and Michal Kieler.
There are no surprises here. There are four players who could tend the net for Poland in goal with my choice being Odrobny and John Murray. Of note, John Muray appears to have received his citizenship and can now officially play for Poland. I like Michal Kieler getting some reps with the national team. He has had a good year for Orlik Opole and at 22, he is very young and could be a key player for Poland down the road.
Adam Borzecki, Mateusz Bryk, Bartosz Ciura, Bartosz Dadbowski, Pawel Dronia, Kamil Gorny, Maciej Kruczek, Bartlomeij Pociecha, Mateusz Rompkowski, Damian Tomasik, Patryk Wajda, and Jakub Wanacki.
I blasted Poland’s defense at the EHIC in February. The lone defender not to return from that EHIC was Oskar Jaśkiewicz, who was not the problem. DEL2 defensemen Borzecki and Dronia both get named, but their inclusion on the team more comes down to if their season is over. Tomasik is getting a well-deserved chance. If I had to pick 7 I would go
Dronia – Pociecha
Kruczek – Wajda
Rompkowski – Borzecki
Mateusz Bepierszcz, Aron Chmielewski, Michael Cichy, Krystian Dziubiński, Radoslaw Galant, Kamil Kalinowski, Damian Kapica, Filip Komorski, Marcin Kolusz, Mikolaj Lopuski, Alan Lyszczarczyk, Tomasz Malasinski, Bartłomiej Neupauer, Grzegorz Pasiut, Jan Steber, Maciej Urbanowicz, Jakub Witecki, Patryk Wronka, and Krzysztof Zapala.
The forward group is what you would expect too. Which disappoints me as I thought there some interesting possibilities. Players like Dominik Pas, Bartłomiej Jeziorski, Filip Starzynski, and Noureddine Bettahar to name a few. Also to note, Alex Szczechura has not received his citizenship and cannot play for Poland. Cichy returns and he should, but I can’t lie I’m not sure how many more chances he should get. For my 13 I go.
Malasinski – Wronka – Chmielewski
Lyszczarczyk – Pasiut – Kapica
Dziubiński – Cichy – Lopuski
Zapala – Kolusz – Urbanowicz
Overall not much as changed from last year and nor did I expect much to change. I did want Ted Nolan to make some changes though and give younger players more chances. That really doesn’t appear to be happening this year at least. It is year one though and in Ted Nolan We Trust.
If you’re looking for a reason for why Poland might get promoted at this year’s World Championships than the EIHC wasn’t it.
Throwaway the Defense
It was like a hot knife through butter. Against opponents missing some their top players the Polish defense was ineffective. Forwards were just walking right through the Polish defenders. Breakouts were not existent. It wasn’t just the defensemen, the forwards seemed lost in their own zone too. If you want to win at the World Championships this will need to be fixed.
The Goalies are Alright
Behind a defense that left them out to dry all 3 goalies gave great performances. Murray demonstrated some great ability to move the puck. It really made Poland a more efficient team. Overall Ted Nolan will have a hard choice of who to start at the World Championships. If I had to rank them.
The power play struggled. So many chances on the powerplay and only a couple of goals to show for it. You would hope the powerplay gets better when some key Polish forwards return for the Worlds, but with players like Wronka, Malasinski, and Kapica in the line up it should have performed better. The power play struggled to set up plays up eventually settling for a low percentage shot.
Is Cichy Working Out?
I was a huge fan of Cichy joining the national team as an import. Cichy has dominated the PHL and is one of the best players in the league. The offensive center only has 4 points in 15 international games and some really poor defensive play at times. I still want to see him at the Worlds, but I’m starting question if he can provide the impact imports have for other countries
Warmed Up for the Worlds
This tournament was a warm-up for the World Championships. They were missing some players and trying out some others. Kapica also mentioned the team was still learning Ted Nolan’s style. There is no reason to panic at the result of this tournament, but it did help expose some holes in the current roster. More experience in Ted Nolan’s system will also be key for the World Championships.
-Wronka is amazing and I’m so happy he plays for Poland
– Kapica is going to be a key player for Poland at the World Championships. The 25-year-old keeps getting better and he had an amazing EIHC.
-At 36 years old, Zapala is winning his battle against time. He played great defensively, especially against Hungary, where he probably saved a couple of goals.
-Ciura had a really tough tournament. On a bad defense, he was one of the worst if not the worst. On this play, he lets the Kazaksthan forward screen the goalie and then the forward still has enough time to bang in the rebound. He needs to pressure that guy
Polish star Patryk Wronka has signed with Orli Znojmo of the Erste Bank Liga, the top league in Austria. At only 20 years old, Wronka had a great year in the PHL scoring at a point per game pace with 42 points in 42 games. He also added 11 points in 12 playoff games. Where Wronka really excelled this year was at the international level. At Olympic qualification, he had a goal and 2 assist in three games and was a key part of Poland beating Hungary and advancing to the next round. The world championships though were his big show. Anytime Wronka was on the ice, he was creating scoring chances whether by him dangling through defensemen or by showing off his playmaking skills. He finished with 1 goal and 3 assists while being named to the tournament all-star team and being named the best forward by the tournament directorate. There are concerns about Wronka though, mostly about his size. Wronka is only 5’8, but I am one who believes size doesn’t matter.
Orli Znojmo is from the Czech Republic and started playing in the Erste Bank Liga in the 2011-12 season after 2 years in the Czech 2 league. Wronka will the first Polish player to ever play for Orli Znojmo. Last season Orli Znojmo made it to the Erste Bank Liga finals losing to EC Salzburg. Orli Znojmo will also be playing in the champions hockey league this year. Their group features HC Fribourg-Gottéron of the NLA and Red Bull Muenchen who play in the DEL.