“If new goalkeeper Frank Slubowski can catch a fish, a small hockey puck should be no problem.”
That’s the translated cutline that accompanies a photo featuring a grinning Slubowski, a Prince Rupert goaltending product who suited up for the NCAA’s Western Michigan Broncos for the last four years, holding up a fish on Polish website nto.pl.
Last week, Slubowski signed a one-year contract with the Polska Hokej Liga’s (Polish Hockey League) Orlik Opole.
“They found me,” said the goalkeeper describing the process of signing in Poland.
“Poland’s trying to establish their national team and their league over there, so they’re trying to make it stronger. They’re recruiting guys, especially with Polish backgrounds.”
Slubowski, who had a career 2.34 GAA and .909 SV% with the Broncos playing Division I hockey, has admittedly never seen a Polska Hokej Lifa (PHL) game or been to Poland, but he’s eager to learn.
“I’m kind of nervous because it’s overseas, but I thought it was the best opportunity for me,” he said, adding his flight leaves next week.
According to Polish international hockey rules, if a player has a Polish background (as Slubowski does) and plays in Poland for two seasons, then that player can qualify for the Polish national team – a program that the country is prepared to invest in and grow.
“I looked at both options – staying in North America and over in Europe and I just figured with this national team opportunity and the opportunity to rise faster over in Europe rather than North America, I thought it was the best option,” he said.
Interestingly, Slubowski takes over for another North American goaltender who left Opole to play in Kazakhstan this season, John Murray. Murray played in North America’s Ontario Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and American Hockey League before making the jump to Europe.
According to PHL rules, starting this year a player with Polish roots must appear in goal for at least half of each team’s games during the season. Slubowski fits that bill pretty well and was a main target for Opole in the off-season.
Helping Slubowski learn the language after already playing a year in the PHL, Poland’s top hockey league, will be American Mike Cichy – a forward who played with Slubowski in the goalie’s first year at Western Michigan. Cichy was the third-leading goal scorer in the PHL last year, finding the net 29 times in 44 games.
“Just knowing someone and someone who can speak English will help a lot,” said Slubowski.
“[Learning the language and customs] will come in time. I heard it’s a different lifestyle … to learn about it will be pretty fun.”
The goaltender might even get more exposure than he bargained for, as Opole, Poland sits on the border of the hockey-crazed Czech Republic. Slovakia and Belarus are also nearby.