When you use the words “ice hockey” and “Poland” in the same sentence, in Switzerland you think about Mariusz Czerkawski at best… who grew as a player in the GKS Tychy and then was able to collect over 700 NHL appearances and played also in Rapperswil between 2006 and 2008.
The NHL followers probably remember also Krysztof Oliwa who collected over 400 NHL appearances.
Obviously, however, the lack of world class players means that Polish hockey can’t count on many followers outside Polish borders. And instead, we had the chance to assist to a couple of games and we can assure that the PHL (Polska Hokej Liga) is fun!
Let’s see what happened during the 2018-19 season.
Each team plays four times against the other 11 teams and two times against the Kadra PZHL U23. It means a total of 42 games. At the end of the Regular Season then, the teams placed between 7th and 10th placed play a “best-of-three” preliminary playoffs round. The two winners then take part in the real playoffs that are played “best-of-seven”.
Let’s immediately have a look at the PHL 2018-19 Regular Season table.
To note that the “Kadra PZHL U23” is nothing less than a selection of the best U23 Polish players. The Kadra PZHL U23 played 22 of the 42 Regular Season games. It’s something like when our Switzerland U20 played in the NLB in the past.
To note, moreover, that Orlik Opole and Polonia Bytom unfortunately had to declare bankruptcy during the season.
GKS Katowice and GKS Tychy were by far the best teams during the Regular Season and the only two sides capable of earning more than 100 points.
The Regular Season’s leading scorer was Patryk Wronka of GKS Katowice. The Polish forward tallied 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 41 games.
Then, the playoffs started. GKS Tychy and Comarch Cracovia made it all the way and faced each other in the final. The final was exciting and lasted 6 games, at the end of which GKS Tychy were crowned the 2019 Polish Champions!
KH Tauron GKS Katowice – KS Unia Oświęcim 4:3
GKS Tychy – MH Automatyka Gdańsk 4:3
KH TatrySki Podhale Nowy Targ – KH Energa Toruń 4:2
JKH GKS Jastrzębie – MKS Comarch Cracovia 0:4
KH Tauron GKS Katowice – MKS Comarch Cracovia 2:4
GKS Tychy – KH TatrySki Podhale Nowy Targ 4:3
GKS Tychy – MKS Comarch Cracovia 4:2
Here is the video of GKS Tychy’s players celebration at the end of Game-6!
THE PARTY IN TYCHY WHEN THE PLAYERS CAME BACK
To note that in Poland there is also a series to assign the third place. GKS Katowice won the bronze medal at the end of a “best-of-three” series played against KH TatrySky Podhale Nowy Targ.
Here the video highlights of the game that earned Katowice the bronze medal!
As you can see, even though ice hockey is a “niche” sport in Poland, there is a lot of passion!
Moreover, Poland wants to grow! The PHL Champions qualify to the Champions Hockey League since three seasons. And there is a program to improve ice hockey level in the country.
Suffice it to think about the National Team, who wants to play the World Ice Hockey Championship one day.
The efforts to improve the level of hockey are evidenced by the fact that, in July 2017, Poland named a certain Ted Nolan the new Polish National Team coach… Ted Nolan is a former coach of, among others, the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders in the NHL. Moreover, he was the coach of Latvia between 2011 and 2014.
With Ted, Poland wanted to grow. Wanted to improve the PHL level and aimed at playing the World Ice Hockey Championships regularly.
Ted Nolan’s first target, as stated in an interview with BN Hockey back in 2017, was to popolarize ice hockey in Poland and to search for those players around the world who have German or American passport but have Polish origins. This in order to add a couple of skilled players in a context that, as he said, has got a lot of ambitions but only few real talented players.
Things, however, didn’t turn out as expected. Ted Nolan, in fact, has resigned after only one year and the relegation from the 1A to the 1B division. Adding that many things should change in Poland in order to make a real step forward. At that point, the Polish Hockey Federation appointed the Finnish Tomek Valtonen the new National Team coach. Tomek, has several years of Liiga (Finland) experience.
Obviously, the hope is that things can get better and Poland can improve as desired. In this regard, perspective aren’t that bad… let’s see some trivia about Polish hockey and its future.
Most successful teams in recent years
Comarch Cracovia Krakow and GKS Tychy have been the most successful teams over the last five years. These two teams won the last five titles (3 times Tychy, 2 times Cracovia) and even represented Poland in the Champions Hockey League. This season, moreover, GKS Tychy earned the first historical win for a Polish win in the Champions Hockey League as they’ve defeated Bolzano 5-3.
The oldest club around
Founded in 1906, Cracovia is the oldest existing sport club in Poland. Ice hockey in the form of bandy (it’s like field hockey but it’s played on ice) had been first played around 1909, and the first North American style ice hockey game was played in 1912. However, the official ice hockey section of the club was created in 1923.
The first real game
On November 17th, 1924 Cracovia and AZS Poznań faced each other in which can be considered the first official ice hockey game in Poland.
Import players’ rule
From season 2018/19 six import players are allowed be a part of each team (each additional one costs the team 25000 zl, approximately 7’000.-), whereas Polish licensed players are considered only those holding Polish citizenship. To sum up, the limitation rests the same but with the aftermath there will be less imports. Worth mentioning, that at the same time clubs supported the idea of increasing the number of import players to 8.
The new provisions regard also foreign goalies who had to share half of their time on ice with polish goalies during the Regular Season. New rules allow a foreign goalie to play without any limit of time whilst he’ll be counted to the limit of foreigners as two players.
Each team, moreover, is obliged to have 2 players under 23 years old.
Europejska superliga – “Puchar Bałtycki”
As reported by tvnsport.com there are talks of the creation of a “Baltic League” that would involve the best teams from Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Project is still under development but with the target to implement it in real life within 2-3 years. All to create a new, strong European league. The originators and organizers cares about development and improvement in the field of play as much as about making ice hockey more and more popular within supporters.