These are good times for Hungary’s Fanni Gasparics, but the coming weekend will make or break her season. Hungary is in a special place right now, sitting in a three-way tie for first place at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A in Vaujany, France.
Hungary, France and Denmark all have two wins and a loss, and if Hungary can beat its two adversaries in the next few days it will earn a spot in the top level of the Women’s World Championship for 2019 as the event expands from eight to ten teams. After Japan’s promotion one year ago there is one spot left. Three points behind, Austria, Norway and Slovakia remain in contention.
Key to success for Hungary will be the 23-year-old Gasparics, who leads the tournament with eight points (five goals) and who has been sensational in wins over Norway and Slovakia. Her rise has been steady and impressive over the last five years, but it all began some 20 years ago in her hometown of Budapest.
“When I was three my parents took me to skating,” she related. “My father taught me how to skate. Then, four years later, when I got to school in September to start a new year, I heard they were starting a hockey team. I didn’t really play other sports and my parents wanted me to be active, and they knew I already knew how to skate.”
“I tried out for the team and made it,” she continued. “It was all boys except for me and two other girls. The teammates were all really nice, and we had a lot of fun. I didn’t know about the national team or anything, but our team played in a lot of tournaments and did a lot of travelling, which was amazing.”
Gasparics was too good to be ignored, though, and after many years of playing with boys she developed into a bona fide prospect for IIHF play. “When I was 15, my coaches told me about the national team and that I might be able to play at the U18 tournament,” she recalled. “My first event was in the Czech Republic and the atmosphere was great. I played at the U18 in Italy and Norway in 2012 when I was 18. We had a very talented team, and I was very young. We worked hard and won our group and moved up to the top division.”
Indeed, the Hungarians won all five games in Asiago at the U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Qualification to advance to the Division I tournament itself, and then in Tromso the team again had a perfect 5-0 record to move to the top level, but Gasparics was too old to compete the year after.
“When I turned 18 and couldn’t play U18 any more, I made it my ambition to play at the senior Women’s Worlds,” she continued. “And now that we’re here, I want to help us get to the top pool for 2019. This would be huge for us.”
So far, so good, but the tough part of the schedule is still to come. “We’re playing well together,” Gasparics enthused. “I’m trying to help with the scoring. I’m shooting pretty well and trying to pass when I have to. I think it’s all about making good decisions at all times. That’s the most important.”
Although these next two games are huge, she is reluctant to label them the biggest of her career because others come to mind right now. “At the U18 in Tromso we needed to beat Norway to finish first and we did, 4-2,” she recalled.
More recently, she has been playing in the Russian Women’s Hockey League for Agidel Ufa, and that also brings back good memories. “I played in the Russian women’s league all-star games in 2017 and 2018. The one last year was the first ever, and it was played in my club town of Ufa. There were 7,000 fans. It was amazing. This year it was in Astana, Kazakhstan, so being named to those two games was a great honour.”
And now, Gasparics hopes to add another great memory – advancing to the top-level Women’s World Championship for 2019, which would be an historic success for Hungary. By Saturday night, we’ll know if she was successful or not.
to follow the tournament. A live stream is available on Fanseat.com