Can Cortina make it again?
by Szabolcs Zavodszky|12 APR 2019
Pat Cortina during practice with the Hungarian women’s national team at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A.
photo: Laszlo Mudra
Italian-Canadian coach Pat Cortina and the Hungarian women’s national team hope to make history on home ice in Budapest as the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A comes to an end tomorrow with Hungary leading the standings with two games to go.

There are very few hockey coaches that have been the head coach for both the men’s and women’s national team of one country. However, there is little chance that anyone has been the head coach of a single country’s men’s and women’s national team and has won promotion to the top division with both teams. That’s what Pat Cortina tries to achieve this week at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Budapest.

“I never really thought about it that way but once I do I think it is pretty neat. It is interesting, this country means a lot to me so it is a big honour to say that you were able to coach both the men’s and women’s teams of a country,” said Cortina when he was asked about this special situation.

Cortina was the head coach for the Hungarian men’s national team from 2004 to 2009. During this time span he had won promotion to the top division and was also the head coach during the top-level 2009 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Switzerland. “When I left Hungary I always said that I have the chance to come back and help Hungarian hockey that I would be more than willing to do it,” Cortina said. “It fills my heart with joy to see how many of my former players are coaching and involved in Hungarian hockey and how many of them are successful coaches.”

Despite having ten years between his two Hungarian coaching positions he was able to find similarities between this current women’s team and the men’s team that he coached in the mid to late 2000s. “There is a lot of talent and individual skilled players on this one as that one as well. We tried to give that team structure and also this one as well. We need the girls to know that we need to be a team in every sense of the word if we want to be successful. This means that they need to accept the roles and work as hard as possible in that role that they are assigned. With that men’s team there was a big rivalry between the two teams (Szekesfehervar and Dunaujvaros) where most of the players came from, but when they put that aside and the skilled players realized that it was about sharing the spotlight and playing the game the right way, it was not about one player showing they are better than the other player. We started to be successful when the players realized that they were here to help the team and not that the team was there to help the player.”

Without a doubt the team that Pat Cortina won promotion with and then play in the top division was a special group of guys with players such as Krisztian Palkovics, Gabor Ocskay Jr., Levente Szuper, Balazs Ladanyi and the Vas brother Janos and Marton, just to name a few. However, Cortina did have some work to do in gelling them together as a team. “What helped us be successful with the Hungarian men’s team – and I would like to achieve with this women’s team – is that the players understand that it is not just about skill. Every role on the team is an important role, whether it is a skill players role or a worker's role. When you play at a high level every player has to appreciate the role that they have and contribute. As a coaching staff you have to give credit to the less skilled roles as much as anyone else, and this helps build a team. You give credit to the shot blocking just as much as the backhanded flip pass.”

Cortina during his career has coached club teams in Italy, Hungary, Austria and Germany as well as the national teams of Italy, Hungary and Germany. During his career he has been known for his temperament and passion for the game. Cortina also talked about how he has changed over the years as a coach. “I am still pretty passionate as a coach. I used to have more rage, the men’s team back then probably needed this. Today’s athlete does not need this, or might not respond the correct way. I have toned it done in recent years. I am thankful that when I meet my former players they do not cross the street to avoid me, but are happy to see me. At least I know that I did not made too much damage,” he said.
Head Coach Pat Cortina with player Alexandra Huszak during a press conference in Budapest.
photo: TSH Photo
In closing Cortina mentioned what he believes the strengths are of this current women’s national team that he is in charge of as well as what he hopes the girls take away from their time together. “What I have seen of this team is that there is a lot of passion on this team and they have the willingness to learn. I think that our skill level is really good, we skate well,” Cortina said.

“I hope the girls enjoy their time with me, that they learn from this experience. If the girls go home understanding what it means to be a team and through the team they will get better as individuals then I know that I left something. These girls have been good for me and I have enjoyed my time so far. These girls love the game and after being fired during the course of this last season and asking myself a lot of questions, these girls have really helped me rediscover my love for coaching.”

Hungary started with a 2-1 victory against Norway but suffered a setback in a 2-1 shootout loss in the neighbouring rivalry against Slovakia. Denmark took the lead in the standings after two days but Hungary responded with a 6-2 victory over the Danes to move to first place with Denmark, Norway and Austria in the hunt for the top spot as well.

Follow the last two days on Friday and Saturday on the tournament. All games are streamed live.