Hockey runs in the Jókai Szilágyi family. Zsófia Jókai Szilágyi started playing the sport at the age of five partly because of her father, who also plays. Eventually Kinga Jókai Szilágyi followed in her older sister’s footsteps and took up the game as well. Now, years later, sisters Zsófia and Kinga have played in numerous World Championships with the Hungarian women’s national team and are playing together in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL).
Zsófia first left Hungary to go to Sweden to play hockey at the age of 15. She played with the Växjö Lakers HC for three years and the SDHL’s Ormsta HC for one year before briefly moving back to Hungary to finish school. Zsófia would make her way back to Sweden in 2014.
“I made some friends during my years when I was in Sweden, so I wanted to play in Sweden again,” explained Zsófia. “I contacted my friend to ask her if she could help me. So there I was again, I had a tryout in Piteå and I signed with the team.”
Piteå has since undergone some name and location changes and is now Luleå HF, the team that Zsófia and Kinga currently play on. A centre, Zsófia has now played 138 games in the SDHL, recording 16 goals and 14 assists. The now 25-year old is also an SDHL Champion, having won the 2015/16 league title with Luleå, which she cites as being one of her highlights from her SDHL career so far.
“I really like to play in the SDHL,” said Zsófia. “Good speed, really good games. We all have the chance to get better and better every year.”
Luleå is a young team, with most players between the ages of 16 and 25. It is also the team of notable players such as Jenni Hiirikoski and Michelle Karvinen. Luleå is currently second in the SDHL, with 19 wins, three ties and just one loss. The team is undoubtedly looking to improve upon last season’s playoff performance, where they lost in the semifinals to HV71.
While Zsófia left Hungary to play in Sweden as a teenager, Kinga, who is a left winger and is five years younger than Zsófia, spent her late teenage years with KMH Budapest, a team that competes in Europe’s Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL). Kinga joined Luleå HF at the start of the 2017/18 season after Luleå’s head coach, Fredrik Glader, invited her to try out for the team.
“My first game at home with Luleå was interesting and it was kind of cool,” said Kinga. “I liked it a lot! We have a special intro before our games begin.”
Kinga has played just 11 games in the SDHL so far, and is currently recovering from an injury. However, her prognosis is promising and she hopes to be back on the ice for the 2018 IIHF Division I Group A Women’s World Championships.
Over the past five years, Hungary’s women’s national team has seen significant success on the international stage, moving their way up the world rankings by winning the 2013 Division II Group A World Championships and the 2016 Division I Group B World Championships. This year Hungary will compete in the Division I Group A World Championships, the second highest IIHF World Championship level, for a second year in a row.
“To play in the Division I Group A Championships now is a good way to get better and better, and we want to stay in this division,” explained Kinga. “We have a good team and our young players who play with boys are always coming up. We are getting a younger and younger team.”
The team that represented Hungary at the World Championships last year had an average age of 21. As well, 12 of the 22 players on that team were playing for teams outside of Hungary; more women’s national team players are playing outside of Hungary than ever before. While just three to four years ago, most of Hungary’s World Championship roster played for teams in Hungary, their roster now consists of more players who play in countries such as Sweden, Russia, Switzerland, and the USA. The Jókai Szilágyi sisters are an example of this.
Hungary’s success internationally has been notable. In 2013, an IIHF.com article stated that “Hungary has been the nation with the fastest improvement in girls’ hockey.” In 2015, former IIHF Women’s Program Manager Tanya Foley noted that one of the countries that she had seen the most improvement from was Hungary. For Zsófia and Kinga, it has been exciting to be a part of their country’s success.
“When I started we were in Division II Group A and now we are in Division I Group A. It’s really good, we went up two levels in kind of a short time,” said Zsófia.
The Hungarian women’s national team’s performance at the upcoming 2018 IIHF Division I Group A Women’s World Championships can be followed here.