BUDAPEST – After three wins and a 26-7 goal difference, it’s the moment of truth for Hungary, the host of the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A. The game against Italy will decide who will be top – and who not – next year.
The Laszlo Papp Sportarena in Budapest has been a good venue for the Hungarians so far. Not only because it was full and the atmosphere great when the home team played, but also because of the team’s perfect record.
However, against Italy it will be another story. It would be a surprise if the Hungarians could score that easily against the physically strong Italians.
The Magyars are in a similar situation as last year when they topped the standings but faced tough opposition in Slovenia in the deciding game and eventually lost.
One big difference is that Slovenia hosted last year’s event in Ljubljana. This time it’s the Hungarians who play on home ice.
While the 13-1 victory against Spain might have been fun for the players, the time comes now where heroes are needed. Heroes like the founders of Hungary whose sculptures proudly guard the Hősök tere, the gorgeous Heroes’ Square in downtown Pest.
Many players from the team had the opportunity to score goals in the last few days – 15 of them actually did – but the most impressive offensive work was done by the first line with the tournament’s scoring leader Balazs Ladanyi (1+9=10 points), Istvan Sofron (6+3=9) and Martin Vas (2+5=7).
Sometimes they outplayed their opponents with their rushes and passes as the Soviets did in the old days when facing underdog opponents. Ted Sator, the American head coach of the team since last season, found a mix of different generations and different roles.
Martin Vas, the centre of the top line, is 31 years old and is playing his ninth World Championship with the men’s national team. His brother, Janos, is also on the team.
Winger Ladanyi, 35, has been kind of his twin in their native club Dunaujvaros, later in Briançon in the French league, and now for Fehervar, the Hungarian team that plays in the Austrian league. It’s already the 17th World Championship participation for him from the third tier to the top division in 2009.
Sofron, 23, looks like the exotic guy on the line. Born in Miercurea Ciuc, a Romanian hockey town mostly populated by ethnic Hungarians, the winger debuted in the Hungarian league as an 18-year-old and just finished his fourth year in the Austrian league with Fehervar. He debuted with the men’s national team last year.
Putting the line together was no rocket science. The trio, along with defencemen Andras Horvath and Viktor Tokaji, has already been Fehervar’s top line and together they accounted for 75 goals in the Austrian league this season.
For the Division I they simply had to take over their roles and their good chemistry to the national team, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
“The coaches in the club found a well-balanced line with us. I’m the oldest of the forwards, and the playmaker, and we have a good worker and a good shooter too in the offence,” Ladanyi said, describing the line.
That the veterans were joined by a young guy was the best that could happen for him.
“If he works well and if he keeps it simple, we will play well,” Ladanyi says about Sofron. “If he wants to be too playful rather than just shooting the puck, we could come into trouble.”
“It’s very important to play with them in the club. I think everybody can see that we feel comfortable that all five of us play together in the same line in the club,” Marton Vas echoes the sentiments of his line mate.
“I’ve played with three of them for a long time, and Sofi jumped in this year and he’s doing what we expect him to do,” the centre says. “He’s skating hard, he’s hitting people, he’s there where we need him and he’s putting the puck in the net. It was the most important thing that we found a guy who can score the goals because Ladanyi and me, we’re more the playmakers.”
Sofron remains simple and modest despite all the praise. And that’s what his line mates want. Stay simple.
“I’m happier about the wins than the six goals I scored. The only important thing is to score more goals than the opponent. It doesn’t matter who scores,” Sofron says in deflecting praise to his colleagues. “We know each other very well, that’s why we scored so many goals here. Ladanyi and Vas are two very talented players. That’s why it’s easy to work with them.”
One important reason why Hungary has become stronger in the last few years is the inclusion of the club team from Szekesfehervar into the Austrian EBEL league.
While the club has had limited success in the league, it proved to be an ideal solution for the national team.
“The club teams in Austria are better than in Hungary. We can improve there as players, but also the national team as a whole,” Sofron said.
But for now the focus is only on Italy. Ladanyi is sure that a breakdown in the worst moment like last year against Slovenia won’t happen again.
“I think we are in a different shape. Last year something wasn’t good. We played well and in the last game we played our worst hockey,” Ladanyi explains. “Now we’re in a better shape. I can’t say we will win, but we’ll try everything to win.”