Tag: Tomek Valtonen

Martin Przygodzki Signs In Slovakia’s Top League

Another Polish player is on their way to the Tipos Extraliga. National team forward Martin Przygodzki has signed with HK Dukla Michalovce. Recently Covid-19 and injuries have strongly impacted the club, and they were looking for reinforcements. Martin Przygodzki, who holds both Polish and Slovakia citizenship was a perfect fit. The right-winger will be the third Pole to play in Slovakia’s top league this year; Kamil Walega plays with HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas, and Damian Tyczynski started the year with HK Spisska Nova Ves.

Przygodzki was born in Trencin, Slovakia. He improved on his craft in the HK Dukla Trencin junior system. For the 2012 season, he made the jump to Poland and signed with GKS Tychy. Since that initial signing, he has played his entire career in Poland besides two games for Gladiators Trencin in the EUHL. During his time in the PHL, he led the league in goals for the 2016 season, along with taking two silver and two bronze medals. He played around the league appearing for GKS Tychy, Naprzod Janow, HC GKS Katowice, Polonia Bytom, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, Orlik Opole, Unia Oswiecim, and most recently Zaglebie Sosnowiec. This year he recorded seven goals and nine assists in 26 games for Sosnowiec. The import forward gained Polish citizenship and started making national team appearances in 2019. He represented Poland at both rounds at of Olympic qualification.

One of his coaches during the Olympic qualifiers was Tomek Valtonen, who is now in his second season leading HK Dukla Michalovce. HK Dukla Michalovce currently sits third in the Tipos Extraliga with a 17-12-2-2 record. The team has experienced a rapid rise since earning promotion to the top league during the 2019 season. Last year the club made it all the way to the semi-finals of the Tipos Extraliga. Among the teams roster is former PHL defensemen Patrik Luža (Oswiecim, 20-21) and Taylor Doherty (Krakow, 21).

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Robert Kalaber Named Men’s National Team Head Coach

Robert Kalaber has been named the head coach of the Polish national team. Kaláber replaces Tomek Valtonen, who led the team for two seasons. The new head coach will also be consulting on the youth national team and supervising the Szkołę Mistrzostwa Sportowego (School Of Sports Champions). Kalaber is currently the head coach of JKH GKS Jastrzebie and has been since 2015. He will be combining his national team duties with coaching Jasztrezbie. He has served as the head coach of the Bulgaria Men’s national team for the past two years. He helped Bulgaria earn promotion to division two group B after being stuck in division three sine 2014.

The 50-year-old Slovak has been coaching since 2006. From 2006 to 2008, he was the head coach of HC Dukla Senica in the second tier of Slovak hockey. In his final season with the team, he led them to a fourth-place finish, which stands as one of their best seasons to date. He would take a break from coaching hockey, until replacing Dusan Gregor midseason for HK Dukla Trencin, who play in the Tipsort Liga. Kalaber would coach both the senior and U20 team for Trencin, til being recalled and replaced, by Milan Stas, in 2014. During this time, he attended Comenius University in Bratislava, where he studied hockey management.

Kalaber than came to Poland and was named the head coach for JKH GKS Jastrzebie. The team was slowly rising up the ranks of Polish hockey, coming off a bronze game win during the 2014 season. In his first year with the club, he took JKH GKS Jastrzebie to the finals, losing to GKS Tychy, who were about to begin their reign of terror. Jastrezbie has lost in the quarterfinals every year since that first finals run. Their core was aging, and the team needed a substantial injection of youth talent. Kalaber and Jastrzebie have become the model that every PHL team should strive to be. No team has the amount of strong young players that they do. Although this year resulted in another disappointing quarterfinals loss, JKH GKS Jastrzebie did capture both the Polish and Visegrad Cups. The Visegrad Cup being a significant achievement as it showed their core and young talent could beat and compete with clubs from the Chance Liga, Erste Liga, and Tipsport Liga.

There are a lot of benefits to Kalaber. He will be in Poland full-time, and that shows no signs of changing. He has been in Poland for over five years now. He has seen the turmoil that the national team and league have gone through. He better understands the problems than any other foreign coach. Not only that, but he has helped build a successful hockey team in Poland based around young talents. Something that some people would claim is impossible based on the training conditions for U20 players in Poland. Kalaber may not have the pedigree or name-value like Ted Nolan or Tomek Valtonen, but his success and time in Poland are more critical to the team right now. I give his hire an A-plus, and I’m excited to see what he and his staff can accomplish.

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A Band-Aid Over A Bullet Wound. The End of the Tomek Valtonen Era

When you were a child, and you tripped and fell scraping up your knee. Your skin burned, and the scrapes started to turn red as blood filled the knicks in your skin. It could be cured by just a simple band-aid, especially if you had the Pokemon-themed ones; they were super effective. The Polish national team was bleeding and put a band-aid over the wound. This wasn’t a small cut though, it was a bullet wound.

Poland had been demoted to Division 1 Group B, and the Ted Nolan experiment was a complete failure. Ted Nolan was a high profile hire. It was kinda embarrassing how quick it went bad and failed. Poland was relegated to Group B after a 6-1 loss to Kazakhstan. Six goals against are fitting because it probably matches the number of times Ted Nolan was in Poland. Ted Nolan and Poland parted way pretty quickly after the tournament. Now, although Poland did do a formal coaching search, it seemed from the start there was only one true candidate; Tomek Valtonen.

Valtonen was the dream candidate. A young coach with Polish roots, he was going to be coaching in Poland with Podhale, he spoke Polish, and he had a background being a head coach in Finland at both the Liiga and top junior level. I don’t think there was another coach that checked off the number of boxes that Valtonen did. It looked to be off to a great start as well when Valtonen added well-decorated Finnish coach Risto Dufva as an advisor to the team.

From the coaching standpoint, it seemed everything had fallen into place for Poland, but in reality, everything was close to burning down. The financials for the team was not in a good position by any means. Then many prominent players joined together to form the Polish Ice Hockey Players Association (PIHPA). The PIHPA fought for better conditions for national team players, as they felt pay and training conditions were not adequate. Most of the players’ association would boycott the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament that Poland was hosting.  Quite a few players retired from the national team overall. Then on day 1 of the competition, the ice conditions were so terrible that games had to be canceled.

Despite everything going against them, it was a success for Poland. Tomek Valtonen and his staff created a roster of players that usually may be far off the usual Polish national team radar that was able to compete with the B teams, maybe C teams, of Austria, Denmark, and Norway. Poland was even beating Denmark until the game was suspended due to the poor ice conditions. Despite everything going wrong off the ice and with the ice, Valtonen and his staff put in an excellent performance.

The Finnish head coach continued to stick up for the players as well. He applauded their efforts to unionize together and fight for the conditions they deserved. While the heads of the PZHL didn’t seem to want to negotiate with the PIHPA, Valtonen’s support and strong relationship with players seem to get a lot of them back in the fold. He was the peacekeeper that Poland needed in the situation. Valtonen himself had also criticized the conditions that Polish players play in.

In Podhale, Valtonen created a team with plenty of national team talent mixed with an influx of Finnish imports. The group seemed to be quite promising and a possible contender to win the entire league. This was the beginning of the end of the honeymoon period with Valtonen because pretty much everything after that initial sign of hope before the hockey year never showed up again.

Podhale was progressing as the same team they were the previous year with the massive influx of import signings not being that impactful. Poland would then travel to Finland to train and face off with two Metsis teams. Both of these games resulted in one-goal losses, but nothing too wrong yet. It was also a pretty valuable training experience, along with showing how much work team Poland needed.

The next couple of tournaments would just be embarrassing for Poland. They suffered shutout losses to Lithuania and Romania while getting destroyed in matches against Hungary. The games against Hungary just showing how quickly Poland’s former rivals jumped past them on the development stage. The Lithuania and Romania were especially troubled as Poland was set to face them in their bid to return to Group A.

Back in Podhale, the team did improve their record and moved in the overall standings by one place, but would lose in the bronze medal game this year. While it may have not lived up to the pre-season hype, there was still a lot to be excited about as the team showed a lot of promise. It would already be the end of the Valtonen era in Podhale though, as the team announced he would depart from the team at the end of the season. Unchecking one of the biggest boxes and reasons, he got the national team gig.

Now came the big showing of the year, Poland was once thought to be a favorite that would easily win their way back to group A, but now that was rightfully in doubt. These doubts happen further when Cracovia Krakow seemingly refused to send the equipment of a few national team players that had yet to re-sign for the following season. Valtonen claimed he reached to Krakow, but they didn’t reply, Krakow later released text messages showing they did in fact reply. In the end, the national team lost defensemen Maciej Kruczek, as his equipment never arrived. This didn’t help team Poland at all that already had a few players drop out with injuries.

The tournament itself pretty much told the story of Valtonen’s first year in Poland. The team starting off strong with great showings versus the Netherlands and Ukraine, only for everything to go drastically wrong as they lose to Romania. Then with nothing on the line, they beat Estonia and Japan in games where you could see no one on team Poland really was giving their best. Their faith was already sealed with the loss to Romania.

It seemed Poland was destined for another coaching change. Valtonen was making more enemies than friends in Poland, as he wasn’t afraid to speak publically about some of the problems he saw with the sport in Poland. Him leaving Poland was also still a sore spot, along with a very disappointing World Championship and the international year overall.

Valtonen remained the national team coach in a bit a surprise announcement. Risto Dufva was also now added to his coaching staff and would be coaching GKS Katowice during the upcoming year. Valtonen was now set to coach in Germany and brought some youth players along to train and try out for German youth teams as well. It seemed like the positives were starting to rise up again!

With Valtonen gone to Germany, it was mostly a pretty quiet year. Poland competed in one Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament versus Hungary, Italy, and Japan. They won against Japan and stayed competitive against the first two. Nothing big of note from the two matches. It was all quiet, too quiet.

Risto DuFva would leave Poland just a couple weeks after the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. Leaving GKS Katowice and the national team in pretty quick fashion. It came out of nowhere,  and only worsened the relationship between Poland and their Finnish staff.

It felt like a sure thing this staff would be gone the following year, and it was just getting through the final two tournaments. There is a magical cure for it all though. That is winning. Poland went into the Olympic Qualifiers without multiple top players and only six total defensemen after players having to drop out. Then in the first period of game 1, Pawel Zygmunt would break his arm and be done for the season. They steamed rolled over the Netherlands and Ukraine, setting up a winner take all game versus Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is a literal KHL team loaded with talented imports as well. Poland beat them in the biggest upset in Polish hockey in years. It did take John Murray making an insane amount of stops, but Poland had done what looked to be close to impossible. Poland now advanced to the final round of Olympic qualification. There seemed to be a lot of optimism in the air, and renewed excitement for the team.

Then Covid-19 hit. The World Championships were canceled, and Tomek Vatlotnen’s contract had expired. It didn’t seem like this would be the end at all though. Valtonen seemed very excited for the future and looked like he expected to be behind the bench for team Poland when they played the final round of qualifications in August. The qualifiers were once again delayed meaning Poland would have to wait till next summer.

Meanwhile though in Kazakhstan, the loss to Poland rung hard. The team fired their national team head coach Andrei Skabelka. Skabelka was also let go from his position with Barys Nur-Sultan, the Kazak KHL team. They needed a new coach and who better than the man who got the original coach fired. Tomek Valtonen was announced as a candidate for the position, along with a few other Finnish coaches. Kazakhstan’s offer would one hundred percent be better than Poland’s offer in every way.

Throughout their coaching search, it was never known how serious a candidate Valtonen was for the position, but at the moment of writing, he is not considered the favorite. With the coaching search in Kazakhstan coming to an end. Tomek Valtonen returned to Poland to meet with PZHL leadership. This meeting could have gone plenty of different ways, but at the end of the session, it was announced that Valtonen was out as the head coach of the Polish national team. The end of the Valtonen era was official.

The team was at its highest that Valtonen had taken them. It seems like an odd time to split ways, but maybe winning didn’t heal all the past drama and disputes. Hokej.net reported that they wanted a coach in Poland, along with some financial constraints, also being a problem. Tomek Valtonen is a great coach that quickly made some necessary changes to the national team. Him moving Marcin Kolusz to a full-time defenseman revitalized Kolusz’s career at a time when people were questioning if he should be included on Poland’s roster anymore. Now Risto Dufva even took Kolusz to Finland with him, signing him to a Liiga contract. Some necessary young and new blood was injected into the line-up.

Tomek Valtonen is a good coach. His players seemed to like him, and I believe he could have taken Poland to the elite division of the World Championships if given the time and support that was required. The problem is Poland’s issues are not that small. They are much larger than what Valtonen could have fixed. The PZHL is not to blame for everything during the Valtonen era, but they shoulder a large amount of it. Poland still has so much left to work on and improve. Valtonen definitely helped slow the bleeding but didn’t stop it. No single band-aid can.

On a side note. I would just like to thank Tomek Valtonen for his professionalism that he always showed myself and other Polish hockey media members. He always made himself available for questions about anything at any time.

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10 Possible Tomek Valtonen Replacements for Team Poland

Things can move really fast in Polish hockey. One second Tomek Valtonen fails to earn promotion at the World Championships and leaves Podhale, leaving people wondering if he is the right coach for Poland. The next second he leads Poland to an upset win over Kazakhstan to move on in the Olympic qualifiers. His victory at the Olympic qualifiers had many people back on the Valtonen train as he was entering his second World Championship leading team Poland. Of course, in the end, everything was canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. But it seemed like the relationship between the PZHL and Valtonen had vastly improved. Despite no longer being under contract, Valtonen was still planing to coach Poland at the final round of Olympic qualification, along with seeming open to a contract extension.

Everything was looking good for Poland, then came the rumors of him possibly joining the team that took the loss in his biggest international career win. It is currently being reported that Tomek Valtonen is a candidate to take over as head coach for Barys Nur-Sultan in the Kontinental Hockey League, along with the head coaching duties for the Kazakhstan national team. At the end of the day, that is a much better job then what Poland can give the young coach.

If Valtonen gets the job, Poland will need to find a new national team leader. National team head coaches can be hard to predict. Sometimes there might be a natural candidate that is the same nationally of the team, or you get crazy outside hires like Ted Nolan. With that said, this list is nothing more than some coaches I think fit or would have a chance at taking over the reins of Poland. The first five are more realistic candidates with the bottom five being more out there candidates with little to zero chance.

1. Piotr Sarnik

One of Poland’s top coaching prospects is former national team forward Piotr Sarnik. Sarnik mostly played with Cracovia Krakow and GKS Tychy during his playing days but has been a vital member of the coaching staff for a different GKS team after his playing days. Sarnik is currently the head coach for GKS Katowice after taking over mid-season last year. Before that, he served as an assistant coach for Katowice since 2017. The 43-year-old is also the head coach for the Polish U20 team. While I might not agree with Sarnik on everything, there is no doubt his resume is quite impressive with a potential national team spot in the future coming soon.

2. Krzysztof Majkowski

I don’t think you could find someone with a more similar career to Sarnik in coaching. Majkowski was a former Polish defenseman appearing at a few non-IIHF events while playing his entire career with GKS Tychy. After retiring in 2013, he joined the team as an assistant coach and served in that role until mid-way into last season, when Andrej Husau re-signed mid-season. This gave the 42-year-old longtime assistant his first chance to lead a team. GKS Tychy continued to dominate, like years past, finishing atop the regular-season standings again. Majkowski has also served as an assistant coach on the Men’s senior and U20 teams. He was a candidate to take over as Poland’s head coach before Valtonen was hired in June 2018.

3. Tomasz Demkowicz

Demkowicz has been an essential part of hockey in Sanok, serving as the team’s head coach while still playing at times during his career. After his playing career was done though, he went into coaching full time. His biggest achievement being the head coach of Sanok for their championship season in 2014. He also led Polonia Bytom during their bronze medal season in 2017. He has always been busy with the national team as well, serving as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s U18 squad, along with the senior women’s team. Since 2018, he has served as the head coach of the Polish U18 squad. Where he won gold and promotion in 2019.

4. Robert Kalaber

Maybe the perfect candidate is in Poland, but not Polish. Slovak head coach Robert Kalaber has led JKH GKS Jastrzebie since the 2015 season. In that time, he has taken Jastrzebie to the finals once while making Polish players, especially younger players, a priority and essential part of his line up. Kalaber deserves a lot of credit for helping to develop the wealth of young talent that Jastrezbie has. This year may have been his best despite a disappointing run in the PHL playoffs. This was one of his best years coaching in Poland because he won the Visegrad Cup and the Polish Cup. He is also the head coach for the Bulgarian national team.

5. Jacek Płachta

What is once old is new again. There is no doubt that Jacek Płachta took the Polish team to heights that Ted Nolan and Tomek Valtonen failed to achieve. Płachta has also continued to grow as a coach, returning to Germany, where he was an assistant coach in the DEL2, and a head coach for Crocodiles Hamburg in the Oberliga the past two seasons. Plachta himself said in an interview to Hokej.net never say never when it came to returning behind the Polish bench. He also was reportedly close to landing the GKS Katowice job before Risto Dufva accepted the position.

6. Nik Zupančič

The Slovenian head coach is the biggest reason for Unia Oswiecim’s turn around this year. He legit made Oswiecim an excellent destination for players in just one year. He is returning to the team once again this season, and keeping most of his core intact, it seems. Well, it doesn’t sound like he wants to be away from his home too long, and he has offers from inside Slovenia. Maybe the national team job could convince him to stay in Poland. He has a long career coaching the Slovenian men’s team at the senior level both as a head and assistant coach.  It may be hard to get him to cross enemy lines over to the Polish side, but no coach has impressed as much in their debut season in Poland.

7. Andrej Husau

Andrej Husau made GKS Tychy into a winning machine and wanted to coach team Poland when Valtonen landed the job. Though he left GKS Tychy on some uncertain terms mid-season. The 50-year-old head coach has yet to take another job and has a great resume. I was a huge fan of the idea of Andrej Husau leading the national team and even thought at points he should have received the job over Valtonen. It is hard to say whether or not the PHL championship-winning coach would return to Poland, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

8. Ernest Bokros

Bokros also applied for the job in 2018 but did not get it. The 60-year-old is a staple of the Slovakian national team. He has served as the assistant coach on their World Championship teams and has held basically every role for their u20 and u18 national teams. He also served as the head coach for HC Zlin in the Tipsport Extraliga for five years. Bokros has had plenty of other head coaching jobs across Czechia and Slovakia, but the biggest one for Poland to pay attention to is his work as head coach of Team Slovakia U20. This past year Bokros served as the general manager for MsHK Zilina in the Slovak second league. Poland could potentially convince the strong junior coach to take the reigns of the national team and help shape Poland’s future.

9. Glen Hanlon

Hanlon was reportedly interested in the 2018 opening, but that interest never went too deep. After that initial interest, he did coach the Hungarian team DVTK Jegesmedvék, who play in the Tipsport Liga. Hanlon has served in a head coach role for Belarus, Slovakia, and Switzerland senior men’s teams. Not to mention being the head coach of the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League. He has already signed on as the head coach for Krefeld Pinguine next year in the DEL. Quite a few Polish prospects play in Krefeld. He brings a lot of name value and experience to Poland, and could be what Poland thought they had in Ted Nolan.

10. Daniel Tkaczuk

The Polish-Canadian forward was once a top prospect in the NHL after being a sixth overall pick in the 1997 NHL draft. While Tkaczuk would reach the NHL with the Flames in 2000 for a 19 game stint, that was the height of his playing career in North America. He went on to have a great career in Europe with strong performances in Germany, Finland, and Italy. He finished his career in 2011 after splitting the season in the Austria second league and Elite Ice Hockey League. After his playing career, he joined the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League as an assistant coach. He stayed in the role until 2015 when he moved over to the Kitchener Rangers. Since 2016, he has worked as a skill and assistant coach for the St Louis Blues organization both at the NHL and American Hockey League levels. There is practically zero chance of him ever being remotely interested in the Polish job, given his position with the defending Stanley Cup champs. He is still a promising young coach with Polish roots that could teach players offensive skills that would take Poland to the next level.

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5 Thoughts 2020 Men’s Olympic Qualification

Things started to appear as dark as they always do for the Men’s senior team just days before this tournament. Patryk Wronka had pulled out, as well as three other players and Poland was a bit low on depth. In the end though, this Polish squad took the lead in every game they played and only once trailed in the entire tournament after a slow first period against Ukraine. This was the best I have seen the men’s team play in a long time. Easily their best tournament under Tomek Valtonen.

Walls Wish They Could Be Murray

One of the biggest reasons Poland won this tournament and are advancing to the next stage of the Olympic Qualification is John Murray. He was outstanding and finished with a .960 save percentage. The highest in the entire tournament! His best performance was against Kazaksthan where he stopped 51 out 53 shots.

Points for Ciura! 

Bartosz Ciura had played in 59 games for the Polish men’s team before this tournament. He had not recorded a single point in any of those games. The GKS Tychy defensemen isn’t that bad offensively recording 96 points (21-75-96) in 446 PHL games. Against the Netherlands, he recorded his first assist for the Men’s team and against Kazakhstan his first goal to give Poland a 1-0 lead.

The Open League Improvement

Poland’s controversial decision to remove an import limit on the league was met with comments about how it could kill Polish hockey. In year one, the league is stronger than ever before. Polish captain Krystian Dziubinski talked about it to IIHF.com,

“Now it’s very tight, any one of the top eight teams can beat anyone else. The other two are not quite there, but maybe they will change something in the near future. Most important, the standard is getting higher. We can see that with the Polish teams in the Visegrad Cup. Jastrzebie won that cup last month, they beat Nitra, who came second in the Slovak league last year, so there’s more progress there.”

The standard is raising for sure and the increased quality of the league has resulted in some big growths for younger Polish players. Dominik Pas was able to continue to test his defensive side against much stronger players and looked miles ahead of last year. Oskar Jaskiewicz seemed more offensively sound and confident and scored twice. Jakub Michalowski held his own defensively never looking out of place. While the detractors may be right in the long run, there have been nothing benefits to the first year of the open league in my opinion.

Strong Special Teams

It seems often when doing 5 Thoughts I have to point out a weak penalty kill or power play. That is now the case for Poland this time. Poland’s powerplay was the best in the entire group with a 35.7 powerplay percentage. The penalty kill was even better not allowing a single powerplay goal on all eight kills.

A Much Needed Win

The first article I wrote this year was looking at who had the most to prove in 2020. The number one person on that list was Tomek Valtonen, I kept his short basically saying it was time to win or get out. Valtonen picked up the biggest win of his Polish hockey career today. The team looked fantastic and really seemed to be clicking in his system. When I defended Ted Nolan I said it would take more than a year to install a system. While his start may have been rougher, the same goes for Valtonen. In a time where the men’s team was appearing as dark as could be this was a much-needed win. There is a light at the end of the tunnel again.

Quick Thoughts

– Oskar Jaskiewicz had a great tournament, not only did he score two goals, but he also added an assist. He tied Krystian Dziubinski for the lead in shots on the team with 12.

– Three of the six defensemen on this team were 25 or under. Defense is probably the position Poland lacks the most depth at. This tournament saw them missing three national team regulars. The defense was able to thrive though.

– Martin Przygodzki is one of the numerous players that never had any national team chances until Valtonen arrived, in his IIHF senior debut he scored two goals.

– Congrats to Michal Kieler on stopping the lone shot he faced in the tournament. The young goalie does actually have a bright future for Poland.

Top Ten in Polish Hockey With The Most To Prove in 2020

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.

8. Jacek Szopinski

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.