ZURICH-KLOTEN – Hungary’s return to the top pool of the World Championship is nothing short of a hockey miracle. It last competed with the big boys in 1939, exactly 70 years ago, so there is absolutely no connection between this team and its predecessor.
What’s even more amazing, though, is that the last time Canada and Hungary faced off against each other, in 1938, the game ended in a 1-1 tie. This during an era when Canada was virtually unbeatable. Indeed, Canada played seven games at the 1938 World Championship in Prague’s Zimni Stadium, winning six by a combined score of 17-6. The only blemish on a perfect record was the tie with the Hungarians.
Canada was represented that year by the Sudbury Wolves and coached by Max Silverman. The roster included only one future NHLer, Pat McReavy, although he wasn’t a bona fide star. The ten Canadians included on that year’s roster included goalie John Coulter and skaters Percy Allen, Gordie Bruce, Reg Chipman, Johnny Godfrey, Roy Heximer, Jack Marshall, Buster Portland, Jimmy Russell, and McReavy. McReavy played a few games with Boston in both 1938-39 and 1940-41, two Cup-winning years for the Bruins.
Coached by Canadian Frank Stapleford and former player Geza Lator, Hungary’s lineup included goalie Istvan Hircsak who played every year (and nearly every game) for Hungary between 1933 and ’39 (six World Championships and the ’36 Olympics as well). Hungary never won a medal in that era, but Hircsak was among the most respected goalies of his generation. His teammates included Laszlo Rona, Zoltan Jeney, Gyorgy Margo, Ferenc Szamosi, Bela Haray, Sandor Miklos, Miklos Barcza, and Frigyes Helmeczy. No member of the team was ever inducted into the IIHF’s Hall of Fame, but to Hungarians of the ‘30s many of these players were legendary.
Games in 1938 consisted of three periods of 15 minutes and were officiated only by two referees (no linesmen). The men in charge of this 1-1 game were André Poplimont of Belgium and Albert Geromini of Switzerland. Both goals were scored in the first period, Bruce scoring first for Canada and Rona tying the score a few minutes later.
After that goal it was scoreless hockey, the Hungarians holding off the mighty Wolves to earn a point in one of three semi-finals groups of three teams each (Germany was the other nation with Canada and Hungary). Incredibly, it was Rona who had a great scoring chance toward the end of the game for Hungary. As well, the team had two power-play chances in the final period but was unable to score the decisive goal.
Unfortunately, this was the last game of the tournament for Hungary. It finished in third place in the group and in a tie for seventh overall (of 14 teams) and failed to advance further. Canada beat Great Britain, 3-1, in the gold-medal game.
Who knows what will happen in 2009, but whether Hungary remains in the top division for another year or is demoted for 2010, the players here in Kloten have become an important part of the nation’s sporting history. From Hircsak to Szuper is a long line to draw, but the 2009 Hungarians are heroes for a new generation of fans.