Vas wants to make 15th Worlds a memorable one
For Vas it will be his second IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship at the top level after 2009 when Hungary competed with the best nations in the world the last time. A lot has changed since the tournament in Switzerland.
The format is different with two groups of eight teams. Interestingly, the preliminary-round opponents of 2009 – Belarus, Slovakia and Canada – will again be in the same group with Hungary along with Finland, USA, France and Germany.
Hungary again will be playing against Slovakia where Lubos Bartecko scored with 13 seconds left to give Slovakia a nail biting 4-3 win on the opening day. Since then more players from Hungary have tried to move to the top leagues in Europe with a natural progression for the national team.
Seven players from 2009 are still with the team – Andras Benk, Csaba Kovacs, Zoltan Hetenyi, Janos Vas and Marton Vas, who had won promotion the year before along with Daniel Koger and Gergo Nagy, who were just young pups along for the ride.
Seven years later Marton Vas is now the captain of the national team and has moved from being a power forward with a scoring touch to a grizzled stay-at-home defenceman, who is passing his knowledge on to the young stars of the future. During his career the 36-year-old has played in four of the countries Hungary will play against. The 189 cm, 92 kg centre-turned-defenceman has seen a lot and experienced a lot during his years playing pro hockey that he can pass onto the younger defencemen.
“One of the major differences is that with my 36 years I am one of the oldest players on the team. Back then we still had a couple of players older than 36 them on the team,” said Vas. “This shows that Hungarian hockey is developing. That once you reach the age being in the mid-30s you are being pushed out by the younger player, like it's supposed to be.”
“The experience he brings onto the ice is like having an coach there with me. He has been great help the past couple of weeks,” said 19-year-old defenceman Bence Stipsicz, who has been paired with Vas since the start of training camp. “What I have learned from him since the start of camp is information that would normally take me half a season to pick up.”
Marton Vas comes from Dunaujvaros, a real hotbed for Hungarian hockey. There were times that 75 per cent of the Hungarian roster came from there or that all but one defenceman came up through their youth system. Both Marton’s brothers played pro hockey, his older brother Matyas after retiring became a referee and his younger brother Janos was a second-round draft pick by the Dallas Stars in 2002.
After coming up through the youth system in his hometown he made a move to North America to play juniors where he spent three seasons, one in the U.S. and two in Canada. This gave him a chance to experience other hockey cultures and to grow as a player, which led him to make the Hungarian senior national team in his first season back in Hungary and playing in the top domestic league.
For the most part of his national team career Vas was a point-per-game forward who could be found on the top-two lines of the Hungarian national team. This was also reflected in his stats with Dunaujvaros which lead to a move to French club Briancon, along with his teammate Viktor Szelig. Vas would spend three seasons in France before coming back to Hungary to play in Szekesfehervar with the Hungarian club competing in the Austrian-based EBEL. This also gave him a chance to play with his younger brother for a season, who had also come back to Hungary.
His stay in France happened to coincide with Hungary’s version of the Miracle on Ice when they upset Ukraine in 2008 by the score of 4-2 to gain promotion to the top division. Hungary had a 3-2 lead with Janos Vas in the penalty box, Ukraine was trying to pull their goalie but just as Igor Karpenko tried to skate off, the puck came loose in front of the Hungarian goal, Balazs Ladanyi and Marton Vas went coast to coast on a two-on-one. Ladanyi held the puck until the last second when he fed the puck to Vas, who rifled it into the back of the net sending Hungary to the top division for the first time in 70 years. The images from Sapporo in 2008 are still moving ones for the Hungarian hockey community.
At the 2009 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship it didn’t come as a big surprise that Hungary was relegated, however, this was the push that hockey in the country needed to try to become a mainstream sport in Hungary. The government started to put more funding towards the sport as more kids started to pick it up.
“Last year’s game against Poland that sent us to the top division was a great memory not just for me but for everyone else as we worked for the second-place finish,” said Vas when asked what the last game against Poland, in Poland, meant to him.
As fellow veteran teammates have hung up their skates Vas became the leader and team captain of the Hungarian national team. This will be his second World Championships with the C on his chest. “Marton has some great leadership qualities. Slearly as the veteran on the team everyone respects him but he also knows when to take it easy and when to be serious,” said Hungarian forward Istvan Bartalis “He also seems to get along with everyone and has something to talk about with them regardless of their age, if they are 19 or 41 and everyone in between.”
It is very easy to see how Marton Vas has become an integral part of this Hungarian national team and why Rich Chernomaz named him the captain after Viktor Tokaji’s retirement.
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