For the first time in their history, Hungary is playing in the top division tournament.
It has been quite the journey for them to get to this point. Between 2000 and 2012, they were solidly middle of the pack in Division III and IIA, the lowest divisions. In 2013, however, they started climbing the tournament ranks with steady progress. That year, they won Division IIA and were promoted to IB. In 2016, they won Division IB and moved up to IA. And now, 20 years after starting in the lowest division of the IIHF, Hungary finds themselves in the top division for the 2021 tournament.
They are ranked 12th in the world and will play for their first Olympic spot in the qualifying tournament in November as well.
The lower division tournaments work differently than the senior division, with only a round robin tournament and seeding after those games, rather than a medal round.
Hungary was the host of the 2019 Division IA tournament, which, spoiler alert because obviously we know the outcome since they’re in the top division, they won handedly. They won four of their five games with their sole loss coming in a shootout with Slovakia. Across the five games, they only let in six goals. Six!! On the other side of the ice, they put in a whopping 20 goals for a goal differential of +14, highest in the tournament.
They kicked off the tournament with a 2-1 win over Norway on a last-minute goal by Fanni Gasparics. Next up was their only loss, in a shootout over Slovakia. Hungary scored early in the game and it was only penalties on the scoresheet until Slovakia tied it up in the third period. Overtime was goalless, so they went to a shootout, which Hungary lost 2-3. The third game was a 6-2 win over Denmark where all six goals came in the second and third periods. They picked up their next win in a 9-0 rout of Italy. Hungary closed the tournament with a 2-1 win over Austria.
Forwards: Réka Dabasi, Fanni Gasparics, Alexandra Gowie, Imola Horáth, Kinga Jókai-Szilágyi, Andrea Kiss, Regina Metzler, Hanna Pintér, Lili Pintér, Alexandra Rónai, Míra Seregély
Defenders: Jelena Grkovic, Franciska Kiss-Simon, Sarah Knee, Emma Kreisz, Fruzsina Mayer, Bernadett Németh, Lotti Odnoga, Réka Pártos, Enikö Tóth
Goaltenders: Anikó Németh, Fruzsina Szabó, Zsófia Tóth
Story to Watch | When they score
With the exception of their 9-0 blowout win against Italy, in the 2019 Division IA tournament, Hungary scored only two goals in the first period while giving up three. In the second and third periods, they scored four and five goals, respectively.
That may fly in Division IA, but in the senior division and with the Group B teams like Czech Republic and Germany, that’s not going to be ideal. Hungary will need to get their skates under themselves quickly, which will be tough given how little hockey was played in the midst of a pandemic.
They do have a little bit of a grace period to adjust to the senior tournament. There’s no relegation this year, so they’ll have a chance to regroup for the 2023 tournament (Worlds isn’t played in Olympic years).
Speaking of Olympics, this will also be a great chance for them to see how November’s Olympic qualifying tournament might go. They’ll play in Group C with the Czech Republic, Norway, and a to-be-determined qualifier. They can learn and readjust in the weeks between the two events to better have a chance at their first Olympics games.
Key Player | Fanni Gasparics
This is a name you’ll hear a lot. She’s an absolute offensive powerhouse. The 26-year-old is the career leader in points with the national team with 52. In the 2019 tournament, she led all players in goals, assists, and points and was named the best forward in the tournament.
Outside of the national team, she brought the same firepower to Agidel Ufa in Russia for three seasons. She averaged 1.31 points per game, racking up 204 total points (104 goals, 100 assists). Since 2018, Gasparics has played in her home country’s EWHL, first with KMH Budapest and currently with MAC Budapest. She’s eating up the competition there, averaging 2.60 points per game and scoring 68 goals in 45 games.
A relatively “young” team, look for Hungary to lean on Gasparics for scoring and leadership.
Key Youngster(s) | Emma Kreisz and Míra Seregély
I couldn’t decide between these two 17- and 18-year-olds, so I picked both. They’ve played together on the U18 team since 2017 and were both on the senior team in 2019 that won the promotion to this level. So this year will be extra sweet for them.
Kreisz, a defender, was named an assistant captain in 2017 and wore the C in 2018 and 2019 for the U18 team. She’s a fairly offensive defender. At the U18 level, she has 14 points in 15 games. She scored three goals in the 2019 U18 Division I tournament, the most by any defender, and was also the most penalized player in the tournament. The previous year she had the most points and assists by any player.
Seregély, a forward, similarly played well at the U18 level. She averaged 1.07 points per game in those tournaments, with nine goals in 15 games. In the 2018 tournament she was named best forward of the U18 level and scored the most goals in the tournament with five. At the senior level, she netted one goal at the 2019 tournament. She’ll join Maine in the NCAA in the fall.