Dorottya Medgyes was nearly speechless when she first saw the rink that would be her new home. Upon entering the Ralph Engelstad Arena at the University of North Dakota, she got goosebumps; this was unlike anything she had experienced growing up in Hungary.
“The place I came from, it’s an older building … the locker room is like two metres wide, and we didn’t even have chairs and things like that … we didn’t even have a normal rink, we had an outdoor rink,” Medgyes said of the arena she grew up in. “I remember times when we didn’t have a window in our locker room and we put towels on it … it’s so different.”
As the first Hungarian to play NCAA Division I hockey – not to mention the member of several World Championship-winning national teams – Medgyes is a trailblazer for women’s hockey in Hungary. It all started when someone suggested that she try figure skating. Medgyes did, but didn’t like it. Instead, she was captivated by the hockey players who were on the ice after her.
“I was like, ‘Dad I want to try it,’ and he wasn’t sure that I could because there wasn’t any other girl on the ice,” said Medgyes. “But we asked the coaches and they said ‘yeah, sure.’” Medgyes played for that team, MAC Budapest, for around 14 years.
A defender, Medgyes would go on the play on the the very first Hungarian U18 national team at the age of 15 in 2012. The team would surprise everyone, winning first the qualification tournament and then, a few months later, the U18 Division I World Championships. Medgyes describes this as being one of the most memorable moments of her hockey career.
She also played on the Hungarian senior national team in 2012 at the Division IIA World Championships. She has competed on that team every year since, winning the Division IIA World Championships in 2013 and the Division IB World Championships this past spring. The win this spring took place in the same city in which Medgyes started with that first U18 team, and will send the Hungarian national team to the Division IA World Championships next year.
But despite this increasing success by Hungary’s female players, hockey – especially women’s hockey – is still a niche sport in Hungary.
“When I was in the bus and I brought my hockey stuff and hockey sticks, everyone was looking at me like, what is that girl doing?” said Medgyes. “They don’t really know what hockey is here.”
Most female players play with boys until they reach the ages of 18 or 19, and many travel to play in other countries such as Sweden and Switzerland. Recently a women’s team, KMH, was created in Budapest, and most of the national team players are a part of this team. Medgyes’ path, however, has taken her to the University of North Dakota in the United States.
Medgyes was first noticed by current North Dakota assistant coach and former head coach of the Swedish women’s national team Peter Elander at the IIHF High Performance Camp and the U18 World Championships. He later contacted Medgyes and sent her a message about playing in the NCAA.
“I showed that message to a manager here and she said ‘Oh. My. God. That’s the biggest thing that could happen,’ because there wasn’t any other Hungarian people in the NCAA Div. I before,” said Medgyes.
Medgyes played 20 games with the University of North Dakota this past season, scoring one goal in a 4-3 overtime win over Minnesota Duluth. The team finished the regular season 18-12-5, and despite winning the first round of the WCHA playoffs by beating St. Cloud State in two games, they were knocked out of the playoffs by eventual NCAA champion Minnesota.
With the University of North Dakota Medgyes has had the opportunity to play with other players who have represented their countries, such as Finns Anna Kilponen and Vilma Tanskanen and Canadian Halli Krzyzaniak.
“It’s awesome,” Medgyes said of playing with Kilponen, Tanskanen, and Krzyzaniak. “Anna and Vilma were in the Olympics last time … Halli, she plays for the Canadian team and I can’t even imagine how hard it is to get into a team when there’s like, 200 good players, I never had that … Halli is one of our best players in how she acts and how she practices, it’s just amazing. I always look up to her.”
Besides the differences between rinks, Medgyes has also noticed deferences between the Hungarian and North American styles of play. Practice systems vary, and coaches emphasize different elements of the game. In Hungary, sports schools or programs like those at prep schools or universities, where student athletes spend a lot of time together, do not exist. One thing Medgyes has really enjoyed about playing at the University of North Dakota has been the camaraderie made possible by spending more time with her teammates.
“I think what I love the most is that the team is like a family,” explained Medgyes. “I love the boys playing in Budapest, but it’s not like that here in Grand Forks. We are together almost every day, and practice every day and eat supper every day … Here I feel like you’re always together and that’s a good thing, you know, especially when you don’t have anybody from your family there.”
So what does the future hold for Medgyes? First, she’s got three more years left with the University of North Dakota. After that? While options in Hungary are few and far between, the NWHL is on her radar, and with the Division IA World Championships next year, there is definitely more to come from this Hungarian hockey pioneer.