Interview with AHL-Goalkeeper Zoltán Hetényi
Zoltán Hetényi was born 18 February 1988 in Budapest. He started his career in the youth teams of Dunaújváros. In 2004 he made his debut in the Hungarian league for Alba Volán Székesfehérvár.
The 2007–2008 season marked his break-through when Hetenyi took over the starting goalie position of the club from Krisztián Budai earning him a spot in the roster of the Hungarian national team, that won the 2008 IIHF World Championship Division I undefeated and was promoted to the top level championships for the first time in seventy years.
Although the Hungarian was eligible to be picked in the 2009 KHL entry draft he wasn’t selected by any club.
In the 2010 Division I World Championship in Slovenia „Zoli“ was already the starting goalie of Team Hungaria. He nailed this position down by leading the goalie stats of the tournament both in GAA (1.29) and in saving percentage (.954).
In 2011 Hetényi joined the Finnish SM-Liiga team Jokerit after a successful tryout. A strong performance during his season in the SM-Liiga and during the development camp of the Nashville Predators earned him a spot in the 2012/13 roster of the AHL team Milwaukee Admirals.
TFB: Zoltán, why did you start to play hockey and what was the reason for picking the goalie position?
Hetényi: I had no specific reasons for starting to play hockey at the age of 8. My mother took me to the ice rink in Dunaújváros. At the very beginning I was a forward, but because I was too slow and also not too skilled the coach put me in the net. After that I fell in love with this position.
TFB: On club level so far you have been playing in the Hungarian League, the EBEL, Mestis and SM-Liiga. Could you describe briefly the different characteristics of these leagues and how hard has it been for you to adjust to each of them?
Hetényi: I was 15 years old when I first played in the men’s league in Hungary. This was the first milestone in my career. I had to adjust to the hard shots and the quick speed of the game. Then our team got the great chance to join the EBEL. In the first year we only tried to survive and not to get 8-10 goals every game. This showed us how hard it was to play in the EBEL and how much higher the level there was after playing in the Hungarian league. But year-by-year we were able to compete better and better.
The EBEL has taught us how to be and live like a professional hockey player. We owe the Erste Bank Hockey League a lot. This league is packed with tons of skilled players and consequently the level of the games is high. Matches are fast and the opponent penalizes every mistake you make, especially in your own zone. We had to learn how to play and concentrate the whole 60 minutes.
The Mestis isn’t as good as the EBEL. There are many young teams and the games are going a lot back and forth. Most of the players are semi-professionals – there are only 4-5 fully professional teams out of 12. Every team focuses mainly on offense, therefore lots of odd man rushes happen. But the speed is very good and I think the Mestis has more quality than the Hungarian league.
The SM-Liiga is the one of the best leagues in Europe. The games are very physical. Defenders like to join the rushes and many of them are very skilled. You can’t really see many differences in playing style between forwards and D-men. Players regardless to their position block shots and are very aggressive in the crease. Teams very well support their goalies. In the SM-Liiga players never stop going to the net for the rebound. If they set-up in your zone there are always 1or2 players screening the goalie. It took me a while to get used to the fast speed and the harder shots.
TFB: Who is or was your biggest inspiration for becoming a goalie?
Hetényi: Patrick Roy was my role model at the beginning.
TFB: Do you have a current player who you are seeing as a role model?
Hetényi: Antti Niemi and Tim Thomas. It’s not their style of playing but the bumpy road they had during their career. They showed me never to give up and that you can reach your goals if you really work hard for them.
Think about Antti Niemi – he used to be a Zamboni driver in the rink of Kiekko Vantaa, where I also played. And suddenly he wins the Stanley Cup. Guys like Thomas and Niemi can truly be great role models for all the hockey players, not only for goalies.
TFB: Which player has impressed you the most during your time in the EBEL?
Hetényi: Alex Westlund, Frank Banham , Rafael Rotter and Todd Elik – all of them have an exceptional hockey sense.
TFB: Did you have any favorite teams to play against during your time in the EBEL?
Hetényi: Of course! We always really wanted to beat Red Bull Salzburg.
TFB: How did you motivate yourself for the try-out at Jokerit after the unsuccessful one the year before in Lahti?
Hetényi: I didn’t really had to motivate myself. I knew where I was going to and how hard I would have to work in order to get a full season contract. It was very risky for me because if it wouldn’t have worked out I would have been without a team. I had to give my very best and I had to keep that up throughout the whole season.
TFB: Despite very good stats in the SM-Liiga you didn’t get too many chances to play in the highest Finnish league. How important has the year in Helsinki been for your development as a goalie?
Hetényi: There is no way to describe how important this year was! Without Jokerit I wouldn’t play this season overseas. In Helsinki every single day I had goalie practice before and after ice training – off-ice as well. I got quicker, much calmer and I improved my catching glove skills and developed a more aggressive playing style. This included how to challenge a shooter and how to cut angles. I also greatly improved my game in shoot-outs and how to be compact and to control rebounds.
TFB: How did the deal with the Admirals happen?
Hetényi: After last season I got this unbelievable chance to participate in the development camp in Nashville. Obviously, I made a very good impression although they most likely didn’t expect too much from me. After the camp Mitch Korn, who is the goalie coach in Nashville, told me he is going to make room in the Admiral’s roster for me. I couldn’t believe his words. And then I got this 1-year one-way deal offer from Milwaukee. It was no-brainer to accept it.
TFB: How much do you think a possible lockout going to affect your season in Milwaukee?
Hetényi: I’m not sure what is going to happen in that case. The only thing I know is that the goalies with the Predators all have one way contracts.
TFB: What are your personal goals for this season with the Milwaukee Admirals?
Hetényi: I want to play as many games as possible. I consider this season as a one year tryout.
TFB: What do you think are your strengths in the game and where would you like or need to improve?
Hetényi: I have quick hands and feet and my lateral movement is fast. But I would really like to improve every part of my game especially my stick-handling.
TFB: Some goalies are very picky even superstitious with their equipment. How about you?
Hetényi: I used to be superstitious but I got rid of that. Like many other hockey players I have my daily routines on gamedays but that’s it. One thing I don’t like is when my equipment is wet – I always dry it out 100%.
TFB: Your career has developed in an amazing way. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hetényi: To be honest 3 years ago I didn’t even think that I could play abroad. I almost gave up on that dream. But now I managed to get to the AHL and everything seems to be possible. Now it’s all about hard work and being humble. I know that hard work beats talent.
TFB: What kind of advice would you give to a young player who would like to become a hockey goalie?
Hetényi: Most importantly – enjoy it! I think this is really important. Be the first guy going to the lockerroom and be the last one who is leaving. Always bare in mind that while you are doing extra shifts your competitor might already have lunch while you are still lifting weights, throwing tennis balls or jumping over hurdles. For me this is an amazing feeling and these are the things that make you better!
TFB: Thanks a lot for you time and best wishes for your season in the AHL!