There's a good chance of getting promoted, but it takes perfect hockey!

The Hungarian men's ice hockey team skates on the ice again with the hope of reaching the world elite in the Division 1/A World Championships in Ljubljana starting on May 3. Despite the international rearrangement, achieving the coveted goal does not promise to be as easy as many people think. However, according to our best player, the recent Finnish bronze medalist Balázs Sebők, it is achievable with an all-time-high performance and the right determination.

"It'd rather be a goal fest in Ljubljana than in the training matches!" (Photo: MJSZ/Dávid Vörös)


A few weeks ago, before the start of the Finnish playoffs, we talked about the perfect dream scenario if you could arrive in the national team with a Liiga title in your pocket and crown your season with the promotion in Ljubljana. Only the Finnish bronze medal has come true so far.
– The goal next year is to really collect the gold – replied our current highest-ranked ice hockey player Balázs Sebők, who plays for Ilves Tampere in the Finnish topflight and finished the season with a bronze with his new team. He collected 34 points in 49 games after a slower start, and then immediately joined the Hungarian national team preparing for the Division 1/A World Championship in Ljubljana between May 3-8. – I did not talk through one's hat: this team had a real expectation of the league. Perhaps in the semifinals, the final decision in Turku's favor was that this was the first really significant playoff experience of most of our squad – for both the players and the staff.

But that's not the case for you. You won a silver medal with KalPa in 2017.
– Yes, but 80 to 90 percent of the current team typically hasn't even played a round in the playoffs whereas TPS had a much bigger experience in it. They were finalists last time as well. In addition, the euphoria may not have completely passed for us after the seven-match quarterfinal thriller, the fight for advancing against Kärpät Oulu in extra time in the decisive final meeting. The team from Turku simply worked more in the semi-finals and deservedly became finalists. But I still consider the bronze medal as a success!

So can we say that you are satisfied?
– We can say it because, as I said earlier, due to the Russian situation, the Finnish legends came home from the KHL practically daily. This current Liiga is really like a "mini KHL," it will be even stronger next season. It is very nice to be able to be a key player for the bronze medal-winning team of a league of this level. It probably says a lot that Marko Anttila, vice-captain of the Finnish national team, recent Olympic champion, and my teammate, who also returned from Jokerit in KHL, mentioned to me that this level is sometimes a lot for him, too...

The captain of the Hungarian national team, Gergő Nagy, is not short either, but the host Slovenians stand out from the field. They are the clear favorites for promotion on domestic ice (Photo: Károly Árvai)


Did it not hurt your mood that after the victory in regular season, city rival Tappara also won the league after a smooth-as-glass final?
– I can say with immodesty that if there had been a team that could have beaten this Tappara four times, it would've been us. We caught them four out of six times in the regular season. But two of my very good friends are playing there too – they both come to my wedding –, and there was no question that I was rooting for them in the final where they left no questions.

However, you could not celebrate much: you played the bronze match in Tampere on Sunday night, then you were already with the national team in Káposztásmegyer on Monday morning. Isn't it bad that after such a long season, you couldn't enjoy success with your teammates?
– Obviously, it is bad at some point; it would have been nice to celebrate a little bit with the guys because anyone who plays sports knows that when a season ends, that team is together for the last time in that formation. Plus, I really love these guys and I like this club, so a deserved celebration would have really fit in, but as they say, that's what pop business is... I knew I have a lot of work to do with the national team in Ljubljana, so I came as soon as I could. It was planned as such in the first place anyways.

Now let's turn to the second part of the dream scenario because it still can come true: the Hungarian national team travels to Slovenia to get promoted. And although the situation is deceptive, this does not promise to be as easy a task as many people think...
– It's the nicest part of hockey that anyone can really beat anyone in a game. With the fact that the two most powerful national teams on paper, France and Austria, were brought up to the elite due to the war in place of suspended Russia and Belarus, there was undoubtedly a huge opportunity. However, the other national teams are just as aware of this, and they see it as a great chance as we do. But that doesn't change our original plan: we should have played perfect hockey to get promoted, and now we're going to have to do it perfectly again. We saw it last time in the final round of the Olympic qualifying tournament that, apart from the one third against Latvia that went wrong, we can fight the stronger teams, and what's more, our hockey works better against them.

Against the lightning-fast Koreans, Bálint Magosi's gamesmanship will also be needed in the key opening ceremony (Photo: Károly Árvai)

The sleazy facts are as follows: Slovenia will stand out from the field without NHL star Anze Kopitar, South Korea will also overtake Hungary in the world rankings on paper, and they beat the team in last week's preparation match. A significant part of the Romanian national team consists of Szekler hockey players training in the Erste Liga, complemented by some experienced, naturalized Russian veterans with KHL history. Finally, Lithuania that is brought up from one below is a completely dark horse.
– I agree. Slovenia stands out – it is the top favorite of the entire tournament, especially on domestic ice – and the players know that, too. The Romanian national team is better known to my teammates, who also play in the Erste Liga, but it is certainly not possible to describe it at all. In regard to the South Koreans, we were able to filter out in a very useful preparation match that, although they have not had a normal season for two years due to the pandemic, their style and strengths have not changed. I feel that behind Slovenia, these three teams will be able to fight with us for second place. Lithuania is really a dark horse; I've never played against them. Maybe the team's a little weaker in this field, but you can run into an unpleasant surprise at any time in a single match if you don't pay attention or write down the opponent, so I'd warn everyone about that. In any case, we will not put any extra pressure on ourselves, and we will endure the pressure that we are used to... We'll be able to bear it.



You have joined the squad last. Your teammate Vilmos Galló, who is training in the Swedish topflight and with whom you were able to cooperate well in November, will not be in Ljubljana due to injury. How much do they weight combined?
– Unfortunately, in recent years, for some reason, it has always happened that the quartet of János Hári, Vilmos Galló, István Bartalis, Balázs Sebők, could never be on the ice at the same time due to the absence of one of us... I would say that this does not affect our game much, because although our hockey game has improved in recent years, we are not yet there so the absence of players such as Galló and Bartalis does not affect anything. However, the coaching staff is also very aware of this, so they tried to put together the squad where the right balance was still there. Obviously, it is a huge drain on us that we will miss these two forwards and Bence Stipsicz from defense, but there are also times in the club season when key people fall out, and we have to solve the task without them. The key here will be a good all-time high performance from everyone. We hope that those who are here on the national team are able to compete with the best – I think the determination is there in everyone.

It is an eternal cliché that there is no need to draw far-reaching conclusions from the preparation matches, but it has been noticed that you didn't take advantage of the situations while the opponents have mostly scored more from their fewer opportunities. Do you have to deal with this, or is it really just a matter of getting the move right in Ljubljana?
– I do in a way that we must correct and change these. Obviously, I can say more about the one game I played against South Korea: we basically had our chances in the first 40 minutes. In fact, I dare say we played as good as we could in the second period, but our use of opportunities was really not good. Obviously, we need to be more confident in front of our own and the opponent's goal because it is an eternal law that if you do not score from your opportunities, you will become more and more frustrated afterwards, and the opponent usually takes advantage of this. A lot of people have asked why we have to play with the Koreans a few days before the World Championships, but it was very good for us; we had a very useful experience with them. But reflecting on the original question: far-reaching conclusions cannot really be drawn from the preparation clashes, but at the same time, it is necessary to analyze what happened and why. And yes, it should be a goal fest in Ljubljana rather than in training matches!


János Vas, Hungarian national team forward
"We had a strong first 40 minutes against South Korea. We hardly gave them a chance, it's another matter that when we gave them a chance, they scored. We're going to play with a different tactic in the opening match than on Thursday: we're going to convert it to make better use of the opponent's weaknesses. We hear from a lot of places that we will have a good chance of advancing to the elite, but Thursday's defeat was a warning sign; anything can happen."

Istvan Sofron, Hungarian national team forward
"In the second half of the preparation, we were a bit at odds with luck. Even though we created a lot of opportunities, the goals just did not want to come. I'm not worried about that: there have been a lot of goals in training matches in the past, but then when it really mattered, at the World Championships, we just couldn't perform well. What's important is that our shots in Ljubljana should go in. Seeing our game against South Korea, I believe we will be successful."

Zoltan Hetényi, goalkeeper of the Hungarian national team
"It's always a great experience to play for the national team, but especially since that I'm back in the goal for the World Championships after six years. I've had the pleasure of playing with a promoted team before, so I know we have to focus mentally on the fact that these are games that we play in the club season too, so they should not be overthought."

Gergő Nagy, captain of the Hungarian national team
"The elements dreamed up by Sean Simpson have already been mastered by everyone. It is not worth drawing far-reaching conclusions from the preparation period, I could elaluate it as a rah-rah, and then we end up in a lurch. Ultimately, it is not what we say that matters but how we perform in Ljubljana. Fortunately, we can rely on each other in difficult moments, the team is united, we trust each other and on Tuesday, we will fight back against South Korea for the defeat in the last game!"

Ron Pasco, head coach of the Lithuanian national team
"We know that we will face strong teams at the World Championships, and we are not the favorites if we stay on the ground of reality. Our goal is to give the maximum, the results are secondary. The head coach of the Hungarian national team, Sean Simpson, is no stranger to us; our teams have clashed several times in the past. He is a very intelligent coach, I have no doubt that he prepares the Hungarians thoroughly. I expect a great match against them."

Gergely Arany (FTC-Telekom), Zoltán Hetényi (DEAC), Miklós Rajna (Újpesti TE)
Nándor Fejes (Gyergyói HK, Gheorgheni, Romania), Zsombor Garát (MAC HKB Újbuda), Milán Horváth (Hydro Fehérvár AV19), Roland Kiss (DVTK Jegesmedvék), Scott Macaulay (MAC), Tamás Pozsgai (MAC), Bence Szirányi (DVTK)
Csanád Erdély (Fehérvár), János Hári (Fehérvár), Dániel Kóger (FTC), Rasmus Kulmala (FTC), Bálint Magosi (Fehérvár), Gergő Nagy (FTC), Kristóf Papp (Michigan State University, USA), Tamás Sárpátki (Gheorgheni), Balázs Sebők (Ilves Tampere, Finland), István Sofron (Sport Club Miercurea Ciuc, Romania), István Terbócs (Fehérvár), Richárt Tóth (MAC), János Vas (HC Presov, Slovakia)
Head coach: 
Sean Simpson (Canada)

Rajna (Z. Hetényi) – Garát, Macaulay / Pozsgai, M. Horváth / B. Szirányi, R. Kiss / Fejes – Cs. Erdély, J. Hári, I. Sofron / Kulmala, Sebők, B. Magosi / Sárpátki, G. Nagy, Terbócs / D. Kóger, J. Vas, Tóth Richárd / K. Papp

May 3, Tuesday: 
HUNGARY – South Korea, 3.30pm. Slovenia – Lithuania, 7pm
May 4, Wednesday:
 Lithuania – HUNGARY, 3.30pm. Romania – Slovenia, 7pm
May 5, Thursday: 
Romania – South Korea, 3.30pm
May 6, Friday: 
South Korea – Lithuania, 3.30pm. Slovenia–HUNGARY, 7pm
May 7, Saturday: 
Lithuania – Romania, 3.30.
May 8, Sunday: HUNGARY – Romania, 3.30. South Korea – Slovenia, 7pm
From division 1/A, the top two teams advance to the world elite while the team finishing last is relegated to 1/B.

Translated by Vanda Orosz

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