Saturday, 14 May 2016

History Made On This Day

They hadn't won a World Hockey Championship game since 1939. It's been 77 years since that win, but Hungary finally broke through to qualify for the top level of the IIHF World Hockey Championship this year. Most figured that this team would show up, do their best, get blown out, and go home. To date, they had scored just four goals in the tournament, but they made some history today! Hungary, ranked 19th in the world by the IIHF, defeated Belarus by a 5-2 score today, marking their first victory in a modern IIHF championship ever!

They lost yesterday to USA by a 5-1 score in which they did everything they could to hold the potent American offence at bay, but they couldn't keep one of the world's premiere hockey powers off the scoreboard forever. Full credit goes to the Hungarians, though, as both they and their fans were in this game from start to finish despite looking overwhelmed at times.

What they learned in that game, however, was that they could skate with the better teams in this tournament. Hungary pressured Belarus all day, and the result was a victory for the country against a team that should be taking no one lightly. Belarus has a few former NHL players on its squad while Hungary features a kid who plays in a junior league in Texas. Clearly, the Hungarians played above their heads against the Belorussians today.

The upset of Belarus is more than just a historic moment in the country's history, though. The win also ties Hungary with Belarus in the standings with three points. What looked like an inevitable relegation is suddenly not so certain with the victory today, and Belarus should now be worried after this poor showing today.

Hungary has Germany on Monday while Belarus has a game against France on Tuesday. Both games carry huge implications as Hungary now holds the tie-breaker against Belarus. In other words, a regulation win against Germany would assure that Belarus would be relegated and Hungary would return to play in next year's World Championship in France and Germany. A loss to Germany in regulation would mean that Hungary would be cheering for France as they would have to beat Belarus in regulation time. If anyone thought that Hungary would go silently back to the Division 1 championship, they have been proven wrong!

For the fans from Hungary who have proudly been in the stands for every game that Hungary has played, there were tears and excitement at the end of the game. The patriotic showing has not gone unnoticed by the IIHF or the world as the Hungarian games - normally sparsely populated in the stands - is 15th out of 16 teams in attendance. You might say, "So what? Big deal," but it IS a big deal for this country's hockey program and its fans.

These are the people that sing the national anthem loudly, often drowning out the winning team's anthem, while the team lined up along the blue line. These are the fans whose singing and support during the games has been noticed by both the TSN announcers and the players on the ice.

"They're crazy," Canadian captain Corey Perry said after the May 8 game against Hungary. "They stayed with it the whole game. It's a lot of fun to watch."

While they won't make the quarterfinals at this point, Hungary has shown incredible growth in just a few games. They're bolstered by their fans, they seem to enjoy rising to the occasion, and they are doing everything they can to give the other teams in their pool nightmares about playing them. If they win against Germany and Slovakia drops its final two games to Canada and Finland, Hungary would finish ahead of the Slovaks as well.

History was made today, but the Hungarians aren't done writing their chapter just yet.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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