Thursday, April 19, 2012
Gábor Ocskay Jr. first gained recognition outside of his native Hungary at the age of 16 when he was the top scorer at the 1992 European Junior Championships C Pool with 10 points in just 3 games as he led the Hungarians to promotion to the B Pool.
In 1993 he registered 5 points at the European Juniors and another 7 points in 4 games at the World Junior C Pool tournament. Completing a busy international season, the 17-year-old then made his senior level debut when he played in the World Championships C Pool, totaling an impressive 9 points in 5 games.
Ocskay, a center, then joined his hometown Alba Volán Székesfehérvár of the Hungarian Nationwide Championship League for the 1993-94 season, where in 20 games, the rookie scored 9 goals and 26 points. He continued to add to his international resume with 4 goals and 8 points in 4 games of the World Junior Championship C Pool and added another 2 goals and 3 points at the World Championships C Pool, all of which earned him both the 1994 Hungarian Best Forward and Most Skillful Player awards while still only 18 years old.
He reached another level in 1994-95 when, in 23 games, he scored 19 goals and 46 points. Still young enough to compete as a junior player, Ocskay scored 6 goals and 9 points in 4 games at the World Juniors C Pool, ending his junior career with 21 games, 19 goals and 20 assists for 39 points. He also made his third appearance in the World Championships for Hungary by the age of 20 and was named Hungarian Player of the Year for the second year in a row.
From 1995-96 to 1997-98, Ocskay continued the pattern of playing for Alba Volán in the Hungarian League, which included setting a career high with 57 points in 28 games in 1997 (being named to his second Most Skillful Player award) and finishing at the leading scorer in the Hungarian league in 1998 with 44 points in 21 games, and reporting for his annual duties for Hungary at the World Championships in the C Pool. After averaging slightly over a point per game in 1996 (5 goals and 7 points in 7 games) and 1997 (5 goals and 6 points in 5 games), Ocskay cut loose in 1998 with a dominating 12 point outburst in just 5 games as Hungary defeated China 7-1, Spain 6-1 and South Korea 6-0 to advance to the Final Round where they demolished Lithuania 14-0 and won promotion to the B Pool with a 3-2 win over Romania in front their home fans in Budapest.
His sixth season with Alba Volán saw the club win their first league championship in 18 years as Ocskay earned his second consecutive scoring title while keeping alive his streak of 44 points or more for the fifth consecutive season, an impressive number when you consider the most games he ever played in the Hungarian league schedule was 28. Unfortunately things did not go as well in the World Championships B Pool, and Hungary found themselves relegated back to the C Pool after going winless in seven games with their best result being a 3-2 loss to Estonia.
Change was in the air for the 1999-00 season, as Alba Volán now competed in an International Hockey League along with clubs from not only Hungary, but Austria, Slovenia and Croatia while their games between other Hungarian clubs also counted in the Hungarian League standings at the same time.
At the World Championships, change was also forthcoming, as a new alignment for the following season saw a change in the format of the C Pool playoffs, and Hungary's wins over Spain and South Korea saw it promoted to the new and expanded Division I. Those victories qualified Hungary for the Final Round, where they proceeded to defeat both China and Croatia to take first place in the entire tournament as Ocskay scored 7 goals and 12 points in the four contests.
For the next seven seasons Alba Volán contented to compete in both the Hungarian and International league simultaneously, winning the Hungarian championship in dominating fashion in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 while finishing in third place in the 2005 IIHF Continental Cup while teamed with right winger Krisztián Palkovics, a pairing dating back to their rookie seasons in 1993-94 which their fans dubbed "The Twins".
Ocskay celebrates a Hungarian League championship with his fans
During their time in Division I, which consisted of 12 teams divided into two groups of six, Hungary finished 4th in Group A in 2001, 2nd in 2002, 3rd in 2003 at home in Budapest, 4th in 2004, 3rd in 2005 in Budapest, 4th in 2006 and 2nd in 2007, successfully avoiding relegation each time, with Ocskay contributing, in a schedule of 5 games, between 4 and 9 points each time.
It was also during this period of time that Ocskay was diagnosed with a heart disease in 2004, which kept him sidelined for four months until receiving medical permission to continue his career, which he did in fine style, as he was named the Hungarian Player of the Year for the third time in 2006 and Best Forward for the second and third times in 2006 and 2007 as well as adding Most Skilled Player awards in 2002 and 2004.
Changes were again the order of the day in 2007-08, as his club team Alba Volán joined the top Austrian league, the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga as well as continuing to have games count in the Hungarian league.
The World Championships Division I Group B was held that year in Japan, and the Hungarians got off to their desired start with a 5-3 win over Estonia with a pair of goals in the third period. Lithuania fell next 6-0 as Ocskay had a pair of goals.
Hosts Japan fell next 4-2 as Ocskay's shorthanded goal in the second period made it 3-0 for Hungary at the time. Their excitement began to build with a 3-0 win over Croatia, with Ocskay picking up a pair of assists, setting up a vital showdown on this date in 2008 with Ukraine, who entered the final game of the tournament with 3 regulation wins and 1 overtime win for 11 points to Hungary's 12, meaning that if either team won in regulation, they would be the one to earn promotion to the Top Division.
János Vas (a second round draft pick of the Dallas Stars in 2002) gave Hungary a 1-0 lead with a goal at 10:27 of the first period and Palkovics extended that to 2-0 with a power play goal with 28 seconds remaining as Hungary dominated the period, outshooting Ukraine 19-6. Imre Peterdi gave the Hungarians confidence that their target was within reach with an equal strength goal 1:46 into the second.
Ukraine was not going away without a fight though, and stunned Hungary with a pair of goals 43 second apart at 17:04 and 17:47, both at equal strength as Ukraine turned the tables with an 18-7 edge in shots for the period.
Both teams played a tighter, defensive style, as the shots were limited to 8-5 for Hungary, who finally put the game away after a scoreless period with a shorthanded goal by Márton Vas with his brother Janos off for roughing. Ocskay finished the tournament fourth in scoring for Hungary with 3 goals and 5 points.
The victory for Hungary was the greatest moment in Hungarian hockey history, as it returned the nation to the Top Division of the World Championships for the first time in 70 years, triggering celebrations back home in Budapest that went into the night.
To put Hungary's accomplishment into perspective, hockey was not a supported sport under 40 years of communist rule, such as it was in Czechoslovakia, and the country had only three teams, who all played outdoors. It wasn't until 1991 that Hungary even had an indoor ice rink and they had now it had made it to the highest level of world hockey with a team of players who started their journey playing outdoors on ice that only lasted three months a year which they had to resurface themselves at times - and now they had reached the highest level of world hockey.
Back in Hungary for the domestic league playoffs in March, Ocskay again showed his undiminished offensive talent with 8 goals and 18 points in 9 games, as Alba Volán won the Hungarian championship for the sixth consecutive season on March 22nd and Ocskay was named the Most Skilled Player for the fifth time.
2008 Hungarian champions Székesfehérvár Alba Volán
One month later the 2009 World Championships were held in Switzerland, only without Gábor Ocskay, as he unexpectedly died on March 24th, 2008 of a heart attack at the age of only 33, just two days after winning the 2008 Hungarian championship. His passing hit the hockey fans in Hungary hard, and they remembered him by lighting candles at every ice rink in the country.
Hungary National Team captain Baláza Kangyal reacted, "Terrible, incomprehensible, what happened." while teammate Viktor Tokaji said, "I'm shocked. Saturday we celebrated together a championship title, and now we lose the best player, a real friend, who always helped me."
While Hungary lost all of their six games at the 2009 World Championships and were relegated is not important, as much as through the efforts of Ocskay and his teammates that they were even there in the first place was their ultimate victory.
Ocskay was remembered by his teammates at the 2009 World Championships with a #19 decal on their helmets during the tournament.
Additionally, Hungarian fans in attendance at the World Championships in Switzerland created a shrine to him outside the arena in Kloten.
The shrine to Ocskay outside the arena in Kloten
Both his club team, Alba Volán Székesfehérvár, for whom he played his entire 15 year career, and the Hungarian National Team retired his famous #19 in tribute to Ocskay and Alba Volán now plays at the Ifjabb Ocskay Gábor Ice Hall, named in his honor.
Additionally, there is also an annual memorial hockey tournament hosted by Alba Volán Székesfehérvár named after him which is held in early September each year. "We are remembering a player who could be an idol for anyone on this team. Playing well will not be enough from our players, they should try to prove that they are following in Gábor's footsteps and are aiming to reach his achievements," said Lajos Énekes.
Alba Volán fittingly won the first Ocskay Memorial Tournament in 2009
During his career, Ocskay played in 531 games, scoring 354 goals and 489 assists for 843 points which included a whopping 187 games for his country, which began back in 1992, including two European Junior Championships, three World Junior Championships and 16 consecutive World Championships.
Today's featured jersey is a 2009 Hungarian National Team Gábor Ocskay jersey that he would have worn in Switzerland had he been alive to do so.
Today's video section begins with highlights of Ocskay displaying his speed and offensive skills as he terrorized goaltenders from all over the world.
This next clip is a musical tribute to Ocskay and shows not only his hockey playing skills, but more about his life off the ice and the family man that he was.
Next, the last goal Ocskay ever scored for Hungary at the World Championships in 2008, an awesome dangle on a breakaway followed by a cool as an assassin backhander to finish the play.
Finally, the last two goals Ocskay ever scored, coming in Game 4 of the Hungarian League Finals for Alba Volán, both assisted by his linemate and lifetime friend #24 Palkovics.