Newcomers at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Tychy, Poland, the collective fighting spirit of the Serbian team against its higher-ranked opponents is epitomized by one of their brightest shining stars, Mirko Djumic.
“With the national team my goal is to help in whatever way I can, so my role will be whatever the coach sees fit,” said the 23-year-old forward who plays in Hungry for MAC Budapest.
His most recent memory from skating for Serbia at the World Championship still manages to bring a smile to his face. Three years ago Djumic was instrumental as Serbia squeezed past neighbours Croatia to win promotion to the Division IB. A cherished memory for the then 20-year-old Djumic winning gold on home ice.
“I have many favourite moments from my career, but if I have to choose I’d say the World Championship 2019 in Belgrade. We won a gold medal after ten years and that’s a big accomplishment for Serbian hockey. Our last game against Spain was do-or-die and we found a way to win on penalty shots,” he said.
Back then Djumic led by example as Serbia’s top scorer of the tournament. Tallying a goal and five assists in five games, he skated with Nikola Kerezovic and Marko Dragovic on a youthful second line with an average age of just 20 years. Three years on, it is now high time to create new memories for Serbia, which gets severely tested at the new level in Poland.
Djumic travelled north to skate for Serbia on the back of a solid first season for MAC Budapest. Being one of the team’s import players, he registered 19 points in 33 regular-season games in the 11-team strong Erste Liga made up of teams from Hungary and Romania.
A Serbian-born and trained player holding down an import spot is not a common sight in professional hockey these days. With an unquenched thirst to succeed, Djumic has set an example wherever he went.
“Since his very first steps on the ice there has been order, work and discipline,” recalled Igor Kosovic, who first coached Djumic at the age of four at the now-defunct ice hockey club Beostar in Serbia´s capital Belgrade.^
“He carried his bag with equipment right from the beginning, he dressed himself, he absorbed everything the coaches told him, he was 100 per cent engaged in every training session, sometimes even too much, thanks to his temperament. Right from the beginning, he knew what he wanted to achieve and what his goals were and it has remained so to this day.”
To speed up his development, Djumic decided to venture down a well-trodden path popular among his Serbian peers. Relocating to Hungary in 2013 playing for MAC Budapest’s junior program was combined with studies at the Serbian school in Budapest. Overnight Djumic’s status as a player was altered.
“When he first came to Hungary he was maybe ranked 30th out of our 40 players. But he was always fighting for his place in the team and is an example of how hard work is needed to be successful,” said Tibor Marton, then GM of MAC Budapest Ice Hockey Academy as he recalled an early memory of Djumic’s determination and character.
“I will never forget one rainy Sunday when it was a day off for everyone. I went in the front of the rink, and there he was alone and jumping on track wheels to get stronger,” said Marton.
Djumic was just 17 when debuting for Serbia at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division II Group A in Jaca, Spain to win bronze. Finding a place in Hungarian senior hockey proved to be a harder nut to crack. Following a brief detour back home to skate at senior level for Crvena Zvezda Belgrade, an opportunity presented itself in professional hockey at Jesenice in Slovenia in 2019.
Two Covid-19 ravaged seasons skating in the Alps Hockey League with teams from Austria, Italy and Slovenia followed. During this time, Marton kept tabs on Djumic’s progress. Ahead of the season 2021/22 season they were re-united once again in Budapest at MAC.
“He is a player every coach would like to have on their team. So when I became one of the coaches of the senior team, I knew the team needed him. We kept in contact, and then during my second season we were able to work together again,” said Marton about a popular addition to the roster from players and fans alike.
“He plays a hard, physical hockey, and he is a basic part of our shorthand play. He is a player who the opponent doesn’t like to play against, and he is scoring in vital moments for the team. He’s a player I’d want to be on my side and not against me,” said Marton in a glowing assessment of Djumic.
Qualities that will come handy as Serbia has to battle it out against hosts Poland, Japan, Estonia and Ukraine.
The last time Serbia competed at similar heights back in 2010 they ended up going straight down after five consecutive defeats. Now playing a hectic schedule with four games in five days, Djumic is positive at the prospect of beating the drop.
“Our goal is to stay in the Division IB, but to do that we have to find a way to step up against better teams. We have a lot of qualities but the most prominent ones are hard work, dedication, and putting the team first,” said Djumic.
Talks about the game just as he plays it. Like a role model.
The beginning has been rough tough as Serbia lost 8-0 to Japan and 7-0 to Ukraine. Today against host Poland and tomorrow against Estonia, also winless after two games, Serbia will have to fight for survival in this group.