Hungarian juniors dominate

Austria-based U18 league in Magyar hands


Hungarian juniors on a rise: Coach David Kiss led Fehervar AV19 to another championship in the Austrian-based U18 league EBJL and as an assistant coach won gold at the recent 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B on home ice in Budapest. Photo: Laszlo Mudra

If a coach wins four gold medals in a span of five seasons, with that other season being a second-place finish, one would think that this person is a really good coach or is at the right place at the right time. In the case of David Kiss it's a little bit of both, he is a good coach, and the place is Hungary.

Kiss, who just turned 27 in March, is Head Coach for the U18 side of Fehervar AV19, a Hungarian club that participates in Austrian-based leagues with several of its teams including the U18 team in the Erste Bank Junior League (EBJL). Fehervar defeated another Hungarian club, UTE from Budapest to defend their EBJL title as they won it the year before. The 2015/16 season came down to Fehervar going up against MAC Budapest for the gold medal. David Kiss has two gold medals in two seasons as a EBJL head coach.

Before taking over this age group he did his “apprenticeship” as the assistant coach to Tyler Dietrich as they led the U20 Fehervar squad to the finals of the first three Erste Bank Young Stars League (EBYSL), the Austrian-based U20 league.

Both junior leagues are affiliated with the senior league EBEL, a multi-national league that includes the best clubs from Austria, Hungary, Italy and Slovenia.

The EBYSL kicked off in the 2012/13 season with 14 teams from five different countries – nine from Austria, two from Slovenia and one each from the Czech Republic, Croatia and Hungary. This was the fifth season of the EBYSL, which has expanded to an 18-team league, split into three groups, with seven Austrian, four Hungarian, three Slovenian and one Czech club.

The EBJL started one season later with 18 teams including seven from Austria, six from Slovenia, three Hungarian teams and one each from the Czech Republic and Croatia. The league now operates with 15 teams, seven each from Austria and Hungary with one from Slovenia.

“After the national team reached the A-Pool in 2009, investments were made into hockey and these players who are in the U18 and U20 teams were still kids or were drawn to the sport because of what happened back then. We can see that if you want to be successful you need a larger amount of kids playing in the youth system. Since then there are more and more kids starting to play the sport and there are more clubs that kids can join to play in Hungary,” says Kiss when asked about why there is a larger number of Hungarian teams competing now than in the inaugural seasons.

It looks like Hungarian hockey will continue to develop their youth system. “The 1999-2000 age group has been playing their entire career in the academy system that we have in Fehervar, they have had everything that they needed, such as equipment, the travel, other clubs also took on the challenge of playing in the Austrian league as well so that we can face more teams. The Hungarian teams take this seriously, it is great that we can face teams outside of Hungary as well,” Kiss says.

The coaching duo of Dietrich and Kiss led Fehervar to a first-place finish in the first EBYSL season as they defeated Znojmo in the finals. A year later they were back and hoping to repeat, however- they came up short in the finals to Ljubljana. They were back in the finals for a third straight season as they got past Salzburg to win their second gold in three seasons. During this stretch MAC Budapest had also became a regular in the playoffs.

Dietrich gave his opinion as well about the success that the Hungarian teams have had in recent years: “There's a good mentality to the young Hungarians; they love playing, they love improving, and they love winning. Getting to play in the Austrian youth leagues has been a good way to challenge the Hungarian teams. In the past typically the Austrians were at a much higher level and had more skill. It's good to play against tough competition during the development stage and the Hungarian clubs have done a fantastic job rising to the challenge.”

After the 2014/15 season Dietrich went on to be head coach in the Hungarian-Romanian senior league MOL Liga and David Kiss was assigned to the U18 team in Fehervar. It happened to win the inaugural season of the EBJL, which was being coached by Istvan Koger, who would take the reigns of the U20 squad from Dietrich.

Now with Kiss running the show with the U18 he continued where he left off and that was winning in Austria. With his assistant coach of Attila Sofron, Fehervar has picked up the past two titles in the EBJL. However, from what Kiss says this will be more of a tall task in years to come thanks to the Hungarian clubs making big improvements.

“We finally have enough players that there is a talent pool that we can pick from, but also the development of coaches has taken a step forward. As we have more players we have more qualified coaches as well. We can see that other Hungarian clubs are coming up to the level where Fehervar and MAC have been, UTE has a great coaching staff behind the team, Gyor has been showing improvement and the Select team from Debrecen and Miskolc have taken tremendous strides each year. Vasas has great rink, with a coaching made up of big names. These are all reasons why the Hungarian teams are performing better and better each season, in the EBYSL and the EBJL.”

It will be interesting to see how the EBJL and the EBYSL is looking like in a few years down the road as well as seeing what team’s bench David Kiss is behind.





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