The highest professional level of ice hockey in Poland is the Polish Hockey League (PHL). Also referred to as the Polska Hokej Liga.
Over the years, the league has changed names a number of times...
The league was renamed to the Polska Hokey Liga in 2013. The PHL has stayed intact as the premier league in Poland, with Poland2 lying just beneath it.
Nine hockey clubs spread across Poland currently make up the league in 2021-22.
In this post, we'll cover each club to provide you with a strong understanding on the league from a high level. Based on a number of our players experiences playing in the league and viewing many in person games in Poland ourselves, we have a good first hand account on the environment.
Let's get started...
Table of contents:
- Polish Hockey League Teams
- Level of Ice Hockey in Poland
- Polish National Hockey Team
- Polish Hockey Players
- Polish Hockey Players in the NHL
Polish Hockey League Teams
Cracovia is one of the most storied organizations in the entire Polish hockey, holding many championships to their name. The club is based in Poland’s beautiful capital city, Krakow.
In years past, they’ve additionally played notable teams in Champions HL and have held a few close matches against top-tier teams from the DEL (ex: Red Bull Munchen). When they initially earned their spot in the tournament for a Polish team in 2016, a short 3 minute video piece was put together covering Comarch Cracovia's proud CHL debut for Poland as a nation.
GKS Tychy has recently won a number of league championships, winning the league in 2015, 2018, 2019, and 2020.
They consistently roster a number of strong Polish national team players and their arena is a great atmosphere for a hockey match due to their intense fanbase. Here's a quick tour of their arena, Stadion Zimowy Tychy.
Tychy’s ice hockey club was founded in 1971.
GKS Katowice was founded in 1964. Due to financial reasons, they did not play during the 2015-2016 season. After returning the following season with strengthened sponsors and new management, they become one of the more competitive clubs in the league.
They've rostered many quality imports from N. America and Europe over the years. Tom Coolen who's coached at the NHL level coached the club for a number of seasons from 2017-2019 (he now coaches Unia Oświęcim).
The club has additionally shown their strength in recent years at the international level, beating Belfast Giants (EIHL) & Ritten Sport (Alps Hockey League) in the Continental Cup.
GKS has one of the most passionate fan bases (Gieksa) who supports the club.
JKH GKS Jastrzębie
Jastrzebie is a team in Poland based in the southwest part of the country (near the Czech border).
They are considered one of the strongest clubs in the league.
After finishing the last season as the top team in the PHL, Jastrzębie is currently taking part in Champions Hockey League this season (in a grouping with Red Bull Salzburg, HC Bolzano, & Frisk Asker).
JKH was founded in 1963.
Torun is a club within that PHL that has always fought to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot each season.
Over the past 5 years, the team has regularly carried a number of imports from Eastern Europe and Russia.
Although they may not be the most talented (or well known) clubs in Poland, they compete well with teams in the league each season.
KH Torun was founded in 1924.
Podhale Nowy Targ
Nowy Targ is the southern most team in the PHL. The team has moved up and down quite a bit in the standings the past 5-10 years. This is likely in part due to the financial strength and sponsors of the club from year to year.
Upon entering the arena in Nowy Targ through town, you have a nice view of the Gorce Mountains.
The club was founded back in 1932 and their home arena is called Miejska Hala Lodowa.
STS Sanok is now back in the Polish Hockey League after a few years in a lower league. Prior to Sanok’s departure, they had won the Polska Hokey Liga championship twice in 2011-12 and 2013-14.
When Sanok is playing well in the top league, their fan base rallies strongly behind the club. It's an exciting environment to watch a game there.
Sanok’s hockey team was founded back in 1958.
Unia Oświęcim is a club that has undergone a great transformation in the past 5-10 years, moving from a middle of the pack club in PHL to a contender for the championship.
The city’s club was initially founded in 1946 after WW2, with the hockey club establishing fully in the 1950’s.
Located just a few miles from Auschwitz, the city has a deep and stark reminder of a terrible time period in the countries history.
If the clubs finances stay stable, it's only a matter of time before Oświęcim hoists a championship trophy again.
Sosnowiec has spent most of their time in the league sitting in the lower quadrant of the standings.
In recent years, they’ve attracted some good import players, but are still working to compete more closely with their polish hockey rivals.
The club was founded back in 1937.
Level of Ice Hockey in Poland
As we've stressed throughout this article, the level of play in the Polish Hockey League has improved greatly over the past decade. In comparison to other European hockey leagues, the talent level of the league is on a slightly upward trajectory.
Part of this is due to the Polish Ice Hockey Federation growing the game from the youth level up to the pros. They’ve dedicated more resources to the games growth. Another part of the rise of hockey in Poland is due to experienced imports elevating the level of play in the league.
Imports not only bring talent to the country in which they play, but they also improve the skill level of native players around them.
A number of imports who possess NHL & high-end European experience (KHL, etc) have joined PHL clubs in recent seasons (ex: Gilbert Brule joining Oświęcim). Without a quality ice hockey agent in Europe, it'll be tough to interest most clubs in Poland based on the current level of play there today. Unless your resume is top-tier on it's own...
Polish National Hockey Team
The Polish men’s national team is a member of the IIHF. Poland is currently ranked 21st of out all hockey nations, but had been ranked higher in decades earlier. Although they’re not ranked the highest internationally, they’ve always competed in a solid Division.
An interesting fact about Poland’s national team is that they’ve played in the Olympics 13 times in total, with their last appearance being in 1992.
Back in 2017, Ted Nolan was hired as the men’s national team coach. He only had a short stay with the national program, but the team has been making a push since then to qualify for the Olympics.
Earlier in 2021, they had a chance to earn a spot in the 2022 Winter Olympics, but lost 5-1 in a match versus Slovakia who earned the bid.
Polish Hockey Players
Although Poland doesn’t have as many notable hockey stars as neighboring countries like Czech Republic and Slovakia, Poland has still produced dozens of players who’ve gone on to play in elite levels across Europe and abroad in North America (major junior, NCAA, pros).
Polish hockey players are hard working.
During training camp in pre-seasons in Poland, many clubs training regimens are reflective of a "soviet style training" in the off-ice conditioning (combined with ice times once that begins). In season, more focus is placed on maintenance and injury prevention.
Polish Hockey Players in the NHL
The most well known polish player to play in the National Hockey League is Mariusz Czerkawski.
From the early 1990’s through the mid 2000’s, Czerkawski played for 5 teams during his tenure in the NHL (Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins)
Krzysztof Oliwa is another Pole who spent many years in the NHL, playing for 6 different clubs (Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers).
He is the only Pole to ever hoist the Stanley Cup after winning it with the New Jersey Devils in 2000 (pictured below).
Both star polish players finished brief stints at the end of their careers playing back home in Poland, with Czerkawski playing a final match for GKS Tychy and Oliwa for Podhale Now Targ.
Mike Danton played for New Jersey Devils and St Louis Blues.
After many years away from the game, he worked his way back to pro hockey and finished his career in Europe playing in the Polish league for STS Sanok. He played for them from 2014-2016 and won a championship with them.
A few other Polish born players who were drafted to the NHL are Wojtek Wolski, Stefan Liv, & Marcin Kolusz.
As we mentioned above regarding the skill level in Poland, there’s a ton of promise that the game of hockey will continue to grow in Poland.
We hope that it does because it’s a great country to play hockey in, both on and off the ice.