All four family members have represented the national team at some point and are an integral part of the Bosnian hockey fabric. It can be experienced at first hand this week when Bosnia & Herzegovina’s men’s national team competes at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Group B on home ice in Sarajevo.
Half of the family members will be battling it out on the ice. 17-year-old Tarik Mrkva will be the national team’s go-to man in the offence. His nine years older sibling, Haris Mrkva, is the utility man of the national team and able to play at all positions, including goalkeeper.
Up in the stands, their parents will cheer them on. Anesa Mrkva, the mother of the family, plays a key role on the organizational side of the young women’s hockey program, but also skated for the women’s national team herself last season. Last but not least there is the father, Adnan Mrkva, a former player and the current General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
With hockey running through the veins of Mrkvas, it’s safe to say that there has not been many family dinners where hockey has not been a topic of discussion.
The first seed for the family’s hockey obsession was planted 39 years ago. Adnan Mrkva was then a teenager when his hometown of Sarajevo, then part of Yugoslavia, saw the 1984 Olympic Winter Games roll into town.
“I started playing ice hockey back in 1984 just after the Olympic Games in Sarajevo. I was almost 14 years of age and even though it was a late start, I really fell in love with the game. I continued playing until 1991 before the tragic war was coming to the Balkans and my country,” he said.
Following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, independent Bosnia & Herzegovina became an IIHF member on 10 May 2001. Adnan Mrkva was one of the enthusiasts rebuilding its hockey program and even skating for Bosnia & Herzegovina ahead of Sarajevo hosting the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification. But aged 38, he opted to give up his place for the next generation and instead took up an organisational role. He was General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of Bosnia & Herzegovina when they debuted at world stage at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III in Izmir, Türkiye.
Ice time or more the lack of it had for long held back the development of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s hockey program. After reaching a dead end with the privately owned former Olympic venue Zetra Ice Hall to prolong their short seasons with ice, Mrkva and his friends decided to take matters into their own hands.
“In 2016 we came together and invested around €500,000 for a new tent next to the Zetra complex. Two years later we expanded it to 55-on-25-metres. It gave us a crucial advantage to run an ice hockey program throughout the year and launched our organization to today’s success,” he said.
“Back in the day when I was a junior player we had about a month and a half of ice and about three-four practices weekly. We had no organized league to play in and had maybe two to three friendly games against teams from Serbia or Croatia,” he said.
Haris Mrkva was of the mainstays on the Bosnia & Herzegovina team debuting at World Championship play in 2015. During a versatile playing career he has suited up a defender, forward and even as a goalkeeper. He also officiated in friendly and domestic games. Apart from being a current national team player he is also the head coach of the U18 national team and the General Manager of the U20 national team.
“Now our program has over 100 junior players and we have ice from eight to nine months a year. Kids starting from U8 to U18 participate in domestic and foreign leagues such as the Serbian league. Even though I didn’t have the proper circumstances to develop properly I am very proud and happy to help the younger generation develop into much better players than us in the past generation,” said Haris Mrkva.
His younger brother, Tarik has so far had quite an international flavour to his fledging career despite still being only 17. Born in Scottsdale, Arizona when the family stayed in the USA, he then spent his formative years developing as a player in Sarajevo. His next port of call became Slovenia where he last season scored for Maribor on his senior team debut. Now skating for Brinken in Sweden, Tarik Mrkva was an integral part of the U18 generation winning the Division IIIB on home ice in 2022. It was the country’s first-ever gold medal at an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship event.
“The gold winning U18 team had been together since 2010 and is our first serious program. Two of them, one being my son Tarik and the other Adi Drnda, were the first to make the step from Sarajevo abroad to improve as hockey players. But what is important is that they have developed in our own program before moving on. We will continue to send the players we feel are ready to better leagues, which will help our national team reach the highest possible level,” said Adnan Mrkva.
Bosnian ice hockey appears to have come out of the Covid-19 pandemic stronger than ever. Three additional national teams joined the men’s team competing at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship events during the 2021/22 season. The U18 men’s team that has previously been active between 2003-05 was relaunched. The U20 men’s national team debuted as did the women’s national team.
One experienced member on the women’s team was Anesa Mrkva, making her debut as a forward and completing the quartet of Mrkva’s skating for Bosnia.
“We started to develop the girls’ program seven years ago and my wife Anesa was one the older players and pioneers. She has an organization position at our women’s team Lavice Sarajevo and the other girls wanted her to play at the World Championship,” said Adnan Mrkva, who looks ahead for what is to come with optimism.
“Today we have four clubs with one of them being a women’s club. To have our kids play in regional tournaments and leagues with teams from Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Slovenia has been a big success. At the beginning we were total outsiders, but today we are very competitive. This gave us confidence to start with all the IIHF categories, except a women’s U18 national team, which we work hard to launch within the next few years.”
“The future is bright but a lot of sacrifice is required to become better and stronger. The biggest challenge apart from infrastructure is coaching and the administration around our program. But we know we will overcome this challenge,” said Adnan Mrkva.
The 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Group B is contested at the Skenderija Sports Arena, Sarajevo from 27 February to 5 March. Hosts Bosnia & Herzegovina compete against Hong Kong (China), Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Malaysia and Singapore in a round-robin tournament.