The hockey season is officially in full swing. The season finally starts after a crazy offseason involving wars complicating players and teams, teams backing out and then backing in, and everything else in Polish hockey. This year, in my opinion, should continue to show the strength of the PHL and how it has improved. That should already be seen across Europe with last year’s champions, GKS Katowice, beating the runner-ups of Switzerland, ZSC Lions. Will they repeat as champions, or will a new team take the crown?
9. Podhale Nowy Targ
Podhale will most likely be repeating as the worst team in the PHL. But this time, it is not an easy guess. Podhale is much better this year, especially with the additions of Kevin Lindskoug and Martin Przygodzki. Last year, Podhale won only three games, so their one win in four games this year is a promising sign. New head coach Juraj Faith has a lot of challenges to face, but they have done a solid job of assembling a roster of PHL veterans, young talent, plus quite a few random imports. While I think they will finish last in the PHL, I don’t believe they’ll be as bad as the last-place teams of the past.
8. Zaglebie Sosnowiec
Zaglebie Sosnowiec had an up-and-down off-season, which is how this season will probably go. I see them finishing in eighth place, where they were last year. Much of that will come down to how Patrik Spesny and Sebastian Lipinski perform in net. Spesny had a rough year in Sanok last season, while Lipinski has never had extended PHL playing time. The offseason additions of Jakub Witecki and Nikita Butsenko will be relied on heavily for the offense. I like what they’re doing on defense with some young additions that will finally get big chances. I approve of where they are going, but it is just not a winning team right now.
7. STS Sanok
Sanok had the roughest offseason of any team. Not due to anything with roster building, but their main sponsor’s building burned down. They originally had to back out of the PHL due to funding but were saved just a minute before midnight. The team brought in a whole new batch of Finnish players who will once again be relied on as team leaders. Ville Heikkinen has the potential to be a really solid producer while getting Kalle Valtola from GKS Katowice should really help on the backend. Unfortunately, losing the PHL’s leading scorer Jakub Bukowski and Radoslaw Sawicki is something I don’t think they added enough to overcome. In the third straight repeat, I have Sanok finishing seventh.
6. KH Torun
I have KH Torun also repeating their place from last year. While not exciting, that is just the bottom of the PHL. Only three players from their top ten scorers are returning this year. The Kalinowski brothers will be relied on heavily to step up their production. While young, Mark Viitanen is a big-body forward and has a lot of potential to be an impactful winger. The strength of this team is on defense. The addition of Jakub Gimiński will be a major key to competing with top clubs, and I am really excited to see the sophomore year of Eryk Schafer. The true key will be how well veteran Latvian goalie Ervīns Muštukovs holds up in net. Depending on how young players produce or imports turn out, Torun could stun a few teams.
5. JKH GKS Jastrzebie
JKH GKS Jastrzebie is the top team to me that had the most disappointing offseason. In net, I am very wary of Bence Bálizs as the starting goalie taking over for Patrik Nechvátal. Vitālijs Pavlovs, who was a key player last year, was surprisingly dismissed this season after one game. The team brought the well-traveled Josef Mikyska to replace Pavlovs in that top center role. Mikyska should be close to a point-per-game player in the PHL. Losing Frenks Razgals, Martin Kasperlík, and Roman Rác hurts a lot, and the forwards they brought in the replace them doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The big news was being able to retain star forward Dominik Pas. A strong Polish core should keep them towards the top, but I don’t know about contending.
4. Cracovia Krakow
Cracovia’s roster strength might change since I don’t doubt one or two players might be here just for the Champion Hockey League games. Still it was quite the offseason for Poland’s New York Yankees as they raided other PHL teams of top forwards like Martin Kasperlík, Mateusz Michalski, Patryk Wronka, Radoslaw Sawicki, Robert Arrak, and Roman Rác. Combine that with talented imports including Jack Walker, Marek Račuk, and Vojtěch Polák, and it is hard to see Cracovia not having a top offense. They retained their strong defensive core based around Ales Jezek, Jakub Saur, and Jiri Gula, and I’m really intrigued by the addition of American Ben Blood. In net Rok Stojanovič and David Zabolotny should be more than enough to lead this team to a potential title.
3. Unia Oswiecim
Oswiecim has a chance to lead the league in goals for. The additions of the acclaimed North American duo Alex Szczechura and Mike Cichy should guarantee them two top scorers. Pavel Padakin also has a chance to make a major impact in the PHL this year. These new imports add to already established top forwards Krystian Dziubiński and Teddy Da Costa who should lead the charge. Defense is not the strongest point of the team, but I really like the offensive potential of Pylyp Pangelov-Yuldashev from the back end, while veteran Latvian Aleksandrs Jerofejevs should provide stability. Linus Lundin is taking the starting role in goal, and while he boasts a .905 sv% in 106 HockeyAllsvenskan games, he has struggled with consistency in his career. The offensive firepower should be enough to carry this team to the top, with title dreams if they hold up defensively.
2. GKS Tychy
It feels like a season of transition for the former back-to-back champs. Last year, they finished fifth in the PHL and would lose in the bronze medal series. The team said goodbye to a lot of major imports and team leaders. Tyhcy brought in more than enough major replacements. National team members Bartosz Ciura, Filip Komorski, last year’s regular season goals leader Jakub Bukowski, and Oskar Jaśkiewicz all joined the team this offseason. Ondrej Sedivy and Roman Szturc should be solid imports addition to help the forward core. On the back end, getting Ciura back along with import Alexander Younan and Jaśkiewicz should be able to replace the losses there. Tomas Fucik has long been one of the best PHL goaltenders and I don’t see that changing. GKS Tychy is an easy pick to finish in the top two.
1. GKS Katowice
The reigning PHL champions did have a lot of talent stolen in the offseason, but I don’t see that preventing them from re-claiming their title. First, it starts in net, John Murray is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. They retained their national team core, which included Marcin Kolusz not returning to Podhale Nowy Targ after his loan last season. Niko Mikkola should also be an interesting addition to the team and give them an another offensive defensemen to pair on the power play with Kolusz.
Grzegorz Pasiut should continue to lead the team on the forward end, while Bartosz Fraszko and Patryk Krezolek are among the best young Polish forwards. Christian Blomqvist and Teemu Pulkkinen should be relied on heavily to produce. While Brandon Magee brings a lot of energy and should help drive play. Japanese forward Shigeki Hitosato was impressive at the Division 1 Group B World Championships, so I am excited to see what he is going to be in Poland. The team has to hope Igor Smal and Jakub Porkurat will take another step forward and contribute more offensively. It is hard to see the Champs not being the major favorite to repeat.
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