Penguins: Hungary heart
One of many things on Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar's agenda was dropping a ceremonial first puck in his family's native Hungary.
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Some NHL players have joined overseas teams in the ongoing lockout, and others are contemplating such a move. For Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar, a trip to Europe required only the approval of the club.
The rewards were greater than he could have imagined.
"It was surreal," said Kadar, who returned a few days ago from spending a couple of weeks in Hungary.
The idea was for him to work with the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation in Budapest. And he did that, getting on the ice primarily with the country's top 20-and-under players and holding a clinic with 50 coaches. He also worked with a pro club, Szekesfehervar of the Austrian League.
But the reception he got in the homeland of his grandparents blew away Kadar.
"As soon as I landed, there was a reporter there," he said.
That interview was just the beginning.
He attended a ribbon-cutting, a news conference, a wreath ceremony and a tree christening. He dropped a ceremonial first puck. He took tea with Peter Szijjarto, a state secretary, in that officials' Parliament office.
By the time he left, there were plans to help him get dual citizenship, in Hungary and his native Canada.
"I had no idea going in what I was going to run into," Kadar said. "When people are coming up and telling you that they're proud of you and they don't even know you, it was emotional."
Kadar previously had gotten some press in Hungary as a staff member on an NHL team and because of his family heritage. His grandfather, also named Mike Kadar, defected to Canada before World War II. Although spotty records from the Soviet years make it impossible to verify, it's believed that Janos Kadar, a former leader of Hungary, was the brother of the older Mike.
The younger Mike made something of a pilgrimage to Nyiradony, a small hometown of his grandfather. He had been there once before, a side trip while working with the Slovenian national team in 2007, but this was different.
Despite a GPS, he was an hour late because of what passes for traffic in rural Hungary.
"It took 21/2 hours," Kadar said. "It was back roads, with horse and buggies, and a lot of older people ride pedal bikes."
No matter. Kadar was treated like royalty. After a ribbon ceremony to welcome him, he visited with the mayor and school children. He laid a wreath at a memorial for a late Hungarian Olympic champion boxer.
And there was the plum tree. It stands in a tree garden and eventually will have a plaque on it. Kadar ceremonially shoveled sand onto its base as it was presented to him.
"That was cool because I remember my grandfather always talked about plum trees in Hungary," said Kadar, who grew up in western Canada and was a teenager when his grandfather died.
Almost all of Kadar's conversations required a translator and some patience -- something he gained experience with the past two summers on trips to Moscow to work with Penguins center Evgeni Malkin -- but there were flashes of the familiar.
He knew some of the cuisine, such as chicken paprikash, because his grandmother used to make it.
Kadar worked with Glen Williamson, who oversees the Hungarian development program. Williamson was a scout for the Los Angeles Kings when Kadar worked for that club.
There are a number of Canadians coaching in that country.
For some in Hungary, Kadar's stature was specifically tied to hockey and the Penguins. Szijjarto, a Parliament member who shared tea with Kadar, was educated in North America and once saw Mario Lemieux play at Civic Arena.
Others didn't follow the sport that closely, or at all, but admired Kadar simply for being a man who shares their heritage and has climbed to the top league in a pro sport.
"I thought it would be a bigger sport than it is -- you know, when you think of European hockey," Kadar said. "It's not the top sport -- and it's certainly not Canada when it comes to hockey -- but it's becoming bigger, and in some areas it's hockey, hockey, hockey.
"But the love of the game is the same as anywhere. They want to get better."
First Published November 5, 2012 12:00 am