A 12-year wait has come to an end for Serbia as the men’s national team made their long-awaited return to skating at a higher level.
Newcomers to the 2022 IIHF Division I Group B Ice Hockey World Championship in Tychy, Poland, the Serbian team’s collective fighting spirit against their top-ranked opponents is embodied by one of their biggest stars. brilliant, Mirko Djumic.
“With the national team my goal is to help in any way I can, so my role will be whatever the coach sees fit,” said the 23-year-old striker who plays in Hungry for MAC Budapest.
Her most recent memory of skating for Serbia at the World Championship still manages to put a smile on her face. Three years ago, Djumic was instrumental as Serbia overcame neighboring Croatia to win promotion to the IB division. A precious memory for Djumic, then 20 years old, who won gold on home soil.
“I have many favorite moments in my career, but if I have to choose, I would say the 2019 World Championship in Belgrade. We won a gold medal after ten years and that is a great achievement for the Serbian hockey. Our last match against Spain was decisive and we found a way to win on penalties,” he said.
Back then, Djumic was leading by example as the Serbian top scorer in the tournament. Collecting one goal and five assists in five games, he skated with Nikola Kerezovic and Marko Dragovic on a young second line with an average age of just 20. Three years later, it is now high time to create new memories for Serbia, who are being tested at the new level in Poland.
Djumic traveled north to skate for Serbia after a strong first season for MAC Budapest. Being one of the team’s imported players, he registered 19 points in 33 regular season games in the 11-strong Erste Liga which consisted of teams from Hungary and Romania.
A Serbian-born and trained player who holds an import spot is not common in professional hockey these days. With an insatiable thirst for success, Djumic led by example wherever he went.
“Since his very first steps on the ice, there has been order, work and discipline,” recalled Igor Kosovic, who first coached Djumic at the age of four at the club. Beostar ice hockey, now defunct, in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
“He carried his bag with gear from the start, he got dressed, he absorbed everything the coaches told him, he was 100% invested in every training session, sometimes even too much, thanks to his temperament, he knew from the beginning what he wanted to achieve and what his goals were and he has remained so to this day.
To accelerate his development, Djumic decided to venture down a well-trodden path popular among his Serbian peers. Moving to Hungary in 2013 playing for MAC Budapest’s junior program was combined with studying at the Serbian School in Budapest. Overnight, Djumic’s status as a player changed.
“When he first arrived in Hungary he might have been ranked 30th out of our 40 players. But he has always fought for his place in the team and is an example of the need to work hard to succeed,” said Tibor Marton, then general manager of the MAC Budapest Ice Hockey Academy, recalling an early memory of Djumic’s determination and character.
“I’ll never forget a rainy Sunday when it was everyone’s day off. I went in front of the rink, and he was alone and he was jumping on track wheels to get stronger,” Marton said. .
Djumic was just 17 when he made his debut for Serbia at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division II Group A in Jaca, Spain to win bronze. Finding a place in Hungarian senior hockey proved to be a more difficult problem to solve. After a brief detour home to skate at the senior level for Crvena Zvezda Belgrade, an opportunity presented itself in professional hockey in Jesenice, Slovenia in 2019.
Two Covid-19 ravaged seasons skating in the Alps Hockey League with teams from Austria, Italy and Slovenia followed. Meanwhile, Marton has been keeping tabs on Djumic’s progress. Ahead of the 2021/22 season, they met again in Budapest at the MAC.
“He’s a player that any coach would love to have in his team. So when I became one of the senior team coaches, I knew the team needed him. We stayed in touch and then at the during my second season, we were able to work together again,” Marton said of a popular addition to the roster of players and fans.
“He plays tough, physical hockey, and he’s a fundamental part of our shorthanded game. He is a player against whom the opponent does not like to play and he scores in vital moments for the team. He’s a player I would like to be on my side and not against me,” Marton said in a glowing review of Djumic.
Qualities that will come in handy as Serbia battle against hosts Poland Japan, Estonia and Ukraine.
The last time Serbia competed at similar heights in 2010, they ended up falling after five straight defeats. Now playing a packed schedule with four games in five days, Djumic is positive about the prospect of beating the drop.
“Our goal is to stay in the IB Division, but to do that we need to find a way to compete against better teams. to the team,” Djumic said.
Talk about the game as he plays it. Like a model.
The start was difficult as Serbia lost 8-0 to Japan and 7-0 to Ukraine. Today against hosts Poland and tomorrow against Estonia, also winless after two matches, Serbia will have to fight for survival in this group.