GRAZ, Austria – Having already survived a relegation battle this season, Lili and Hanna Pinter's experiences from Sweden's top league will stand them in good stead as Hungary aims to spring a surprise in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.
Newcomers at this level, Hungary is competing in neighbouring Austria this week with a close-knit unit of players battling against higher-ranked opponents.
With four pair of siblings on the Hungarian roster, playing for their country has turned into a family affair. First choice netminder Aniko Nemeth and blueliner Bernadett Nemeth are twins, sisters Zsofia and Kinga Jokai-Szilagyi both chase goals, goalie Vanessa deputizes in the net and her older sibling Tifani Horvath is a forward, while Lili and Hanna Pinter form an offensive threat on Hungary's second line.
Like the Vas duo Marton and Janos on the men’s team, who both with varied success benefited from spells in Sweden, the Pinter pair is hoping that their experiences gained in one the strongest women’s hockey leagues in the world can contribute to the continued progress for their national team program.
Born in November 1996, older sibling Lili was a part of the Hungarian generation who during the 2011/12 season lifted their U18 national team from nowhere and straight into the top division. She played a key role when Hungary's U18 team competed in the top division for two seasons and was joined by her younger sister, Hanna, into the junior national team ahead of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship on home ice in Budapest, which ended up with relegation.
Having tasted life at the highest level, many from that successful generation have since continued their development abroad. Today, half of the players on the current Hungarian roster are playing their hockey in countries such as Russia, Germany, USA and Sweden.
With the Pinters opting for Scandinavia, it was Lili who first took the plunge into uncharted waters. Ahead of the 2015/16 season she signed up for SDE HF, based in the Northern Stockholm region and a club priding itself for honing talent at youth and women's level. Having now spent her last two seasons in Sweden's top women's league, SDHL, Lili has after an initial settling in period reaped the rewards of her hard work.
“Off ice is really hard and the game was also much harder both physically and mentally. With the pace of the game being so much faster, my vision has improved and so has my ability to solve difficult situations out on the ice,” she said on life in Swedish hockey.
Spreading the word of her experience in Sweden, Lili was reunited with her younger sister ahead of this season. Hanna, born in March 1998, signed up for SDE HF where the siblings were part of a multinational team with players from five different countries. Helene Astrom, the club’s team manager, describes the Pinter siblings in glowing terms as players who both are blessed with good shooting ability, pace and positive attitude in abundance.
While Hanna decided to return to Hungary during the second half of the season, Lili was an integral part of the SDE HF team that battled hard in the SDHL as the top division’s underdog.
“It is a challenge to be at our best, to show them that we can play at that level against teams like for instance Lulea. You are playing against very tough opponents, but at the same you try to keep up to speed with them. I felt that especially the speed and our overall game has been improving and we are getting closer to our opponents,” said Lili Pinter, who can look back on a successful end to her club season where a place in next season’s SDHL was ensured on 19th March.
With the focus now having shifted to national team duties, Hungary entered Division IA as the lowest-seeded team. A narrow opening-day 1-0 loss against favourite Japan showed that the Central Europeans are not to be brushed aside lightly. Having then recorded their first win, 2-0 against Denmark during Day 3, Hungary has destiny in their own hands as France and Norway await in the final two rounds.
“It is a tournament we are capable to finish at any place. It will be important not to lose our self-confidence and I think it will be very tough, but we are capable of winning each of those games,” said Lili Pinter.
In the meantime Austria and Japan went on with a 3-0 and it will be one of those two teams that will earn promotion. The teams will go head to head on Thursday evening.
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