In the spring of 2009 in Kloten, Switzerland a then 29-year-old Márton Vas and the Hungarian national hockey team made their first appearance in the top division of the IIHF World Championships. Six games on, Hungary was relegated and back in the first division where they spent the next six years battling to get back to a spot among the elite sixteen in hockey. They have done it but it will be a monumental effort to stay up again. But even qualifying for a spot in Russia, the Hungarian international hockey right wing takes a moment and positively reflects on getting back on top.
“We’ve watch those guys at the World Championships like everyone else and that is on the television,” he said. “We are proud of what we have done over the past couple of years to get here and back to this level.”Seven years ago, Hungary lost all six of their games in the tournament, including a 9-0 loss to Canada. Now the prospect of facing another highly skilled Canadian team presents quite a challenge but Vas keeps it in perspective. “We have big respect for the Canadians but we are not going to back off,” he said about how they will approach today’s game. “We are going to try to play the same way and give them what we’ve got. That’s the only way we can play. If we give up in the first minute, that will be bad for us. And that is not our team identity.”
If there was a benefit to the 2009 experience was that interest in the sport rose back home. With interest comes support that can help grow the program. “Back then we were among the top five sports in Hungary so we got a lot more government money coming into the sport which helps in developing the younger guys.” That has brought more players into the ranks and Vas points out that the roster of available players to the national team has tripled since that time. Hungary’s training camp roster for this tournament was an impressive 78 players. And there is certainly an increase in the number of young players among those participating.
“We have a lot of young guys coming,” the 36-year-old Vas said. “It is a big step forward. We are still working on the direction forward and still have to have a lot more young guys coming up.” But if there is anything that will further motivate youth to play and increase participation, it will be for Hungary to develop an elite level player that makes it to the NHL. Slovenia has done it with Anze Kopitar and the same for Denmark with Frans Nielsen. “That will be the key to the future of hockey in the country is developing the young guys,” Vas said. “If we got a couple of young guys to make it to the show (the NHL) they will really put the nation of Hungary on the map.”
Until that time there is work to and Hungary but Hungary will be carried by the love and support of their fans. Vas credits the fans who follow the team around and provide such energy, such spark that the players cannot help but be impressed and motivated by them. “They are like an extra player on the ice,” he said. “They follow us around to these tournaments and never stop cheering for us. How can you not want to give your all with supporters like the ones we have.”
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