BUDAPEST – Hungary has been the nation with the fastest improvement in girls’ hockey. As the country prepares to host the top nations in the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, the federation is looking to recruit new girls.
It was one of the biggest surprises of the 2011/2012 season when the Hungarian U18 women’s national team won the Division I Qualification, then the Division I tournament itself a few weeks later to earn promotion to the top level.
Last winter at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Finland the Hungarians confirmed their new strength in this category. They sent Germany to the relegation round and finished the event in sixth place.
“We’re happy with these girls. The girls born in 1994, 1995 and 1996 are very talented and the ones born in 1996 can still play in the upcoming season and we hope we will also be able to stay in the top division again,” said Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, IIHF Council Member, Chairwoman of the IIHF Women’s Committee and the one in charge of women’s hockey in Hungary.
Staying in the top division is the main goal now, especially since Hungary will host the event in its beautiful capital city of Budapest.
The performance in the recent years with the teenage girls, which also helped the senior team climb up the ladder to Division I Group B for next spring, also opened eyes abroad in other small women’s hockey nations.
But what’s the secret? While Kolbenheyer said it could very well all be a co-incidence, she looked back at how the girls started the sport and how it aided their development.
“We had some coaches who thought at the same time it’d be good to let the girls play with boys,” she said, “and the girls from these strong classes were the first from this era. Later when they were around 14 we worked a lot with the girls.”
Can the trend go on? Kolbenheyer feels less confident about the classes that will represent the Hungarian U18 women’s national team in the years after the championship in Budapest. That’s why the program cannot stand still.
After a one-year break Hungary returned to the IIHF World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend with events in two different parts of Budapest. And next year, Kolbenheyer hopes that the women’s teams in the other cities – Szekesfehervar, Dunaujvaros and Miskolc – will also host events to recruit new girls.
The events in Budapest were organized by national team defender Nikolett Huszarne Simon, who presented women’s hockey in Hungary to the participants together with Gömöri Csaba, head coach of the senior and U18 women’s national teams.
On the ice the girls learned about skating techniques, accident prevention, stickhandling, passing and shooting and also had the chance to hug Hungarian mascot Slider before watching an exhibition game with U18 and U15 players.
On Saturday 25 young girls aged 3-5 years came to the Tüske ice rink, a seasonal rink that opened just one week earlier.
The same program was held on Sunday at the Ujpest ice rink just 500 metres away from the venue of the upcoming U18 Women’s World Championship with 50 participants between 4 and 9 years of age.
Parents asked about the closest hockey teams their girls could join and were helped finding one by the organizers.
“The girls were very happy to be here, and all of them would like to play hockey,” said Huszarne Simon. “Our U15 girls’ program and women’s program will become stronger thanks to this event. We have new ice rinks and should have more girls who play hockey.”
The new U15 program is designed to develop girls at an age group where they prepare to switch from playing with boys to playing in a women’s league.
“It’s a new program for young female players with coaches. We want to show the younger girls where they can go if they are good and work hard,” said Kolbenheyer.
Some of the beginners of today might be the U18 and senior national team players of tomorrow. And that’s why such events are run.
While looking ahead to develop players, the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation will also start promoting the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in their country and the U18 women’s national team soon.
For Hungarian hockey fans it will be a rare opportunity to see national teams from the best hockey countries in the world on home ice.
After all, the last time a Hungarian team played in a top division event before the U18 girls last year was when the men’s national team qualified for the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland – and that was the first time in 70 years.
“In December during our three-day Winter Classic we will do more promotion for our U18 women’s team,” Kolbenheyer said.
The recently renovated open ice rink Varosliget in the city centre near the Heroes’ Square will be used for several games. Fehervar AV19, the Hungarian team in the Austria-based EBEL, will play two games and a game from the Hungarian-Romanian MOL Liga will be staged there as well.
On the women’s side KMH Budapest, the team in the Austria-based EWHL, will host the Sabres Vienna at the classic venue and plans are being made for the U18 women’s national team to play an exhibition game against the Sabres.
A good opportunity to present the team to local hockey fans before the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship will be staged in the city from 23 to 30 March.
MARTIN MERKVisit our tracker to find out about more events all around the world.