STS Sanok continues to recharge its lineup, and they continue to do it with a Finnish flavor. The team has now signed Juho Mäkelä to a one-year agreement, and he is the sixth Finnish player already a part of the Sanok roster.
“A hard-working team player, always willing to help his team” is how Elmo Aittola, TUTO Hockey’s Sports Manager, described Juho Mäkelä in 2017. The Huittinen native left-wing spent last year in France’s Ligue Magnus with Anglet. In 32 games, he posted 17 points (6G-11A-17PTS) and 53 penalty minutes. Before going abroad, he spent four years with TUTO Hockey in the Metsis, where he has a career 72 points (33G-39A-72PTS) in 190 games and 214 penalty minutes.
Now for his first full season, Finnish head coach Miika Elomo will still be behind the bench for Sanok. The club already has had a heavy Finnish flavor for a few years though. Dominik Salama, Jere Karlsson, and Sami Tamminen are returning from last year’s squad, while the team also added Niko Ahoniemi and Kalle Valtola this offseason. The team will need all the help it can get after losing Polish stars Jakub Bukowski and Radoslaw Sawicki in the offseason.
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Maciej Witan has received a four-year ice hockey ban from the Polish Anti-Doping Agency. This comes after the player tested positive for a banned substance prior to a game with KH Torun on Setmpeber 16. Witan and STS Sanok were informed of the failed test in October. Witan has 21 days to appeal once the Polish Anti-Doping Agency has served him with proper notice.
Witan is no doubt one of the best young players in Poland. Last year with Sanok, he set the PHL on fire. The Sanok native recorded ten goals and 12 assists in 40 games. This was tied for the eighth-most points by a player in their draft-eligible plus two seasons since the 2000 season. It was a fantastic year by a great young player who seems to possess all the tools to be a great forward outside of Poland and first liner in the PHL. He recorded two assists in eight games prior to his suspension.
This would be a very unfortunate career-ending ban for such a great young player. His ban would start on October 8, 2021, meaning he would still have over three years left. We are currently looking into whether he would be eligible to play outside of Poland in Europe or in North America. The Polish anti-doping agency is partnered with the World Anti-Doping Agency. The young forward did plea not-quilty. He can still appeal but the agency said they would expect him to lose unless some new evidence is provided.
Just one day after Polonia Bytom of the MHL released five Russian players, we have another case of a team in Poland releasing a player in relation to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. STS Sanok has released forward Alexander Mokshantsev, and the team will be without him as they try to battle back from being down 3-1 in the playoffs to Unia Oswiecim.
Mokshantsev joined the team early on in the season. In just 26 games, the Russian forward recorded four goals and 21 assists. This was third on the team in assists for the regular season. In the playoffs, the 27-year-old had recorded two goals and an assist in four games. The former KHL forward has bounced around the lower leagues of Europe since leaving Russia in 2017. He is the first Russian player to be released by a PHL team in wake of the war.
“We believe that there is no explanation for such situations. We 100% support the sanctions against Russia and its citizens. Therefore, we decided to terminate the contract by mutual agreement of the parties with our player, Aleksander Mokszancew, immediately.” The club said in a statement alongside the release. It is currently unknown if the player was given a chance to condemn the war like the players of Polonia.
A reminder the player association of Poland did release a state asking that Russian players in the PHL, not face consequences for the actions of the Russian government.
The PHL season is fully underway. With plenty of teams facing a COVID-19 related cut to their roster. This left plenty of roster spaces open for young players to earn. COVID-19 also caused PZHL U23 to be left out of the plans for the hockey year. It also left many players without a way to play a sizable amount of games in the PHL, which is an excellent development experience. If a player were going to get meaningful minutes in the PHL, they would have to prove it to their clubs’ coach that they are ready to contribute in the league.
I think those conditions make it the perfect time to check in on the young talent for each PHL club. I also am setting a goal to pick players that are not as traditionally regarded as a top player. Sure Dominik Pas is a great young player, but he has also been in the PHL for years now. So I am setting a rule of less than 50 PHL games coming into the year.
Cracovia Krakow – Patryk Gosztyla. In the past couple of years, Krakow started to make an apparent effort in bringing in young talent. Gosztyla was part of that initial group. The 6’2 defensemen got a bit lost in the shuffle in 2019 after returning to Poland from the Slovak junior system. This year though, he has cemented himself as part of the Krakow defensemen lineup, already topping his games played total from last year. The 20-year-old also has posted five points (1G-4A-5PTS) in six games in the Polish second league. Honorable Mention: Igor Augustyniak
GKS Tychy – Kacper Gruźla. Gruźla had a breakout year last year in the Polish second league. This earned him a long term spot with PZHL U23 and an appointment to the Polish U20 squad. This year he has run with it playing in six games for GKS Tychy. Since then, he has already impacted the boxscore, recording two goals and two assists. If the 6’1 forward continues his upward trend, he could find himself with a larger PHL and national team role. Honorable Mention: Jan Krzyżek
JKH GKS Jastrzębie – Dawid Wróblewski. Jastrzebie has the most young talent of any team in Poland. With that, a lot of the talent has already played more than 50 games, as a lot of the talent has long been promoted to the PHL. Wróblewski saw a lot of action across different Polish junior teams putting up solid production wherever he went. This year, with Jastrzębie not having a team in Poland’s second league, the 6’4 forward was loaned to Polonia Bytom. There he has put up six goals and six assists in eight games. He should be able to start trying to force his way into the Jastrzebie roster. Honorable Mention: Marcin Płachetka
KH GKS Katowice – Maciej Miarka. Miarka joined the Katowice squad after seeing the logjam of goalies in Jastrzebie. In Katowice, the former Poland U18 and U20 goalie should play quite a few games in the PHL this year. In Katowice, the Łódź native will be backing up veteran Slovakian goalie Juraj Šimboch. So far, in two PHL games this season, the 6’1 goalie has a .912 SV%. Including stopping all seven shots, he faced in relief against defending champs GKS Tychy. Honorable Mention: Marcin Wyśnik
KH Energa Toruń – Oskar Bajwenko. Before we knew if this hockey year would go on at all, Toruń had a team mostly of junior players with a few imports and returning veterans. One of the few junior players from that group to earn a contract was Oskar Bajwenko. Bajwenko is a smaller defenseman but not afraid to go into the corners and get physical. He has received a small amount of junior national team consideration. He is a project. He could develop into a tremendous physical defenseman with two-way abilities. He has only played in one game so far in the PHL, but with the start the club has had this season, it is understandable they may not want to change up the lineup. Honorable Mention; Filip Mazurkiewicz
Podhale Nowy Targ – Ernest Bochnak. Nowy Targ came into this season, emphasizing finding new Polish talent and has already tried out quite a few new young players. This includes Ernest Bochnak. Bochnak comes over after time in the Czech and Finnish junior systems. Last year he played most in the third level of Czech hockey, recording two goals and four assists in twenty-two games. Bochnak has long been one of the best Polish junior players. He now has a chance to show that in Podhale. Through eight games, he has two points notching both a goal and an assist. Honorable Mention: Fabian Kapica
Stoczniowiec Gdansk – Michał Zając. I have many feelings about the club and how they will be as a place for developing young talent. The team will undoubtedly provide a lot of value to young players in terms of ice time. Zając is taking advantage of that, playing in each of the team’s games so far. In those ten matches, he has recorded one goal and three assists. This matches his production from last year with PZHL U23 but in a much smaller role. He is making the most of his opportunities. The 6’1 forward would have easily made the Polish U20 squad if not for COVID. Honorable Mention: Bartosz Wołoszyk
STS Sanok – Jakub Bukowski. Sanok is one of the youngest teams in the PHL, leaving many options for this choice. For their pick, I went with Jabuk Bukowski as he is probably the most pro hockey ready. He showed up well in the pre-season and has done well so far in the regular season. He has three goals and one assist. His point total is tied for third on Sanok. The talented forward showed a lot of potential in smaller Czech and Swiss leagues and now has a great chance to show his skills in Poland. He has been given many top line chances in Sanok, giving him an excellent opportunity to develop further. Honorable Mention: Maciej Witan
Unia Oswiecim – Sebastian Lipiński. While I tried to pick less known players for this list, the gap between Lipiński and the rest of the Oswiecim roster was too big. Lipiński is one of the best young goaltenders Poland has seen in a long time, with few rarely even able to play the amount of PHL games he has at his age. So far, in his lone game this season, he posted a 15 save shutout vs. Gdansk. Honorable Mention: Patryk Kusak
Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Marcel Kotuła. Sosnowiec is another team packed with a lot of young talent, but most of their young talent are seasoned veterans of the PHL. As mentioned in Lipinski’s paragraph, young goalies don’t get those chances in the PHL. This season Marcel Kotuła will compete with 24-year-old Michal Czernik for reps. Last year Kotuła led all goalies in save percentage for the Polish first league. So far through four games between the PHL and Polish first league, he has a .917 SV% along with one shutout. Honorable Mention: Szymon Luszniak