The Sanok year

The Sanok year

20 Mar 2012 | Piotr Kaczmarek

With Unia Oświęcim's bronze medal season is over in Poland. Sanok celebrates a season to remember while many clubs continue with financial instability

KH Sanok was crowned Polish champion for the first time in history. Finally, after two years making big transfers (Zapała, Malasiński, Gruszka, Odrobny, Dziubiński, Kolusz and foreigners Mojzis, Kotaska and Kubat) they catch the long-awaited title.

Sanok didn't have good start of the season, but after head coach Milan Jancuska was replaced by Marek Ziętara things changed and team played great during rest of regular season and play-offs, they didn't have many worse days, especially on the most important phase of the season.

In fact Sanok didn't have blind-spots on a roster. Defensive lines with great with Odrobny in the net and solid defenders like experienced Czech Ivo Kotaska and Pavel Mojzis, very good Poles Paweł Dronia, Bogusław Rąpała and Paweł Skrzypkowski, and Slovaks Zoltan Kubat and Roman Gurican -  both applicants for Polish citizenship - was very hard to defeat by other teams. Sanok has also great attacking lines leading by Czechs Martin Vozdecky and Josef Vitek supported by "Podhale's five": Krystian Dziubiński, Krzysztof Zapała, Tomasz Malasiński, Marcin Kolusz and Dariusz Gruszka, and some others solid players like Sławomir Krzak, Michał Radwański and team captain Maciej Mermer.
Moreover Sanok has some good young players, which should be the future of the club: Bartosz Maza, Dawid Maciejewski, Łukasz Bułanowski, Marek Strzyżowski and Maciej Wilusz. A very good roster, supported by a good and stable financial situation got Sanok first championship.

Sanok won Regular season with eleven points advantage over Cracovia. In play off semis they defeat JKH Jastrzębie with 4-0 in the series. During final series against Cracovia, Sanok conceeded only one game at defending champion. Sanok simply deserved for title without any doubt. Moreover, Sanok also won Polish Cup in December beating Oswiecim in the final

Runner-up Cracovia had to fix some issues during almost whole season: Pole-Canadian David Kostuch left Cracovia in September and get back to Canada. Kostuch was back for play-offs scoring 7 goals and 11 points in 9 games, and these numbers showing how a big loss was his departure.
On late October Cracovia lost also team captain Daniel Laszkiewicz, suspended for doping. Also other players wasn't as good as in previous season, but all works good enough to finish season in the second place. Team was leaded during whole season by two great Polish forwards: Leszek Laszkiewicz and Damian Słaboń.
Laszkiewicz scored 91 points (47 goals and 44 assists) in 50 games, Słaboń noted 68 points (24+44). Also defenders Tuomas Immonen and Nicholas Besch and forwards Aron Chmielewski, Petr Dvorak and Michał Piotrowski had a good season, but unfortunatelly it wasn't enough to defend the title.

For third place played Unia Oświęcim and JKH Jastrzębie. JKH leading series 3-2 and could take historical Bronze medal at home, but fails. Unia won in Jastrzębie despite of losing 0-2 after 9 minutes, and in last game took a win in OT. Both teams played very good season and both are well managed. Unia Oświęcim changed twice the head coach. In November Swedish Charles Franzen replaced Karel Suchanek and during Bronze medal series Franzen was fired and replaced by Tomasz Piątek.

Unia has its worst period under late Suchanek era, but after Franzen's arrive, team played Polish Cup Final and clinched play-off spot before end of Regular Season. JKH 2nd time in the row ended season without medals, but this club is working very wisely and I think it'll benefit during next seasons.

Fifth team - GKS Tychy - is the greatest loser of this season.
GKS didn't have a lucky season. Almost all the time the roster was plagued by many injuries. Season was started by Jacek Płachta on a bench, but due to weak results he was replaced by Wojciech Matczak. However, the coach change didn't worked and Tychy finished regular right behind fourthth JKH.

GKS is last team in PLH with a normal financial situation, last three teams had to handle with very bad economic situation. Moreover, we have to remember, that right before season Polish League was reduced to 8 teams; KTH Krynica and GKS Stoczniowiec Gdańsk didn't participated to PLH exacly due to financial (and organizational too) troubles.

6th teams afet play-offs, Zagłębie Sosnowiec after organizational changes played good enough to avoid relegation series, but the play-out semis against Nesta Toruń was very close, and Zagłębie won it only 4-3.

Nesta Toruń and Podhale Nowy Targ played the relegation series. Even if situation in Nesta isn't good, is heaven in comparison to Podhale's one. Team from Toruń won Play-out series 4-1, and was really the better team during all the series.
Podhale, Polish Champions 2 years ago, right after the title almost fall down due to bankrupcy, and since that time club existence was all-time fight to survive. Podhale, playing whole season with a very young and unexperienced rosters - with some exceptions (Różański, Łabuz, Rajski, Dutka and until January Canadian-Pole Kelly Czuy) - was simply too weak to avoid relegation. Podhale was relegated for the first time in club history. I hope that city and team, which produced so many players and it's a piece of Polish hockey history, will back to PLH very quick.

Podhale will be replaced next season by HC GKS Katowice, which won 1. Liga very easily. However, HC GKS for now isn't strong enough to play in PLH, if they won't sign some PLH-level players, they will looks like Polonia Bytom a few years ago - last team in table with very few points.

Next season we should have also 8 teams in PLH, but It's not sure, in last two summers our Federation showed that nothing is sure before the start of the league.

For future I can only wish all teams to have good sponsors and smart managers, stable situation in clubs should help ice hockey in Poland, because now this discipline isn't so popular in our country.
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