|Szuper-man Levente Szuper is an icon in his home land.
by Aaron McCracken
"Hungarians don't play hockey!"
Twenty-two year-old goaltender Levente Szuper has heard it over and over again. Coming from a country with only three indoor rinks and very few organized hockey leagues, it's hard to believe that a young man from Budapest would have a chance to play in the NHL, something that no Hungarian has done before.
But a look at Szuper's resume proves that he's not an ordinary guy. In 1995, at the age of 15, he became the youngest player in the 'B Pool' at the World Junior Hockey Championships, in what would be his first of four straight years representing Hungary at the tournament. Szuper was named to the all-star team in three of those years, and led the Hungarians to a Gold Medal in their pool in 1998.
During the same season, Szuper came to Canada after spending one season in Germany with the Krefeld Penguins' junior team. He adapted quickly to the North American game and won 22 games in his first season while helping the Ottawa 67's win the prestigious Memorial Cup, the trophy given to the top junior team in Canada.
Despite these accomplishments, Szuper attracted very little interest from NHL teams. Although he was eligible for both the 1998 and 1999 entry drafts, no teams took a chance on the young goaltender. According to Szuper, "People kept telling me I could never play in the NHL because I was born in Hungary."
Szuper returned to the Ottawa 67's in 1999-00 where he won 31 games and led the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage. Finally, in June 2000, the Calgary Flames drafted him in the 4th round (116th overall) and quickly signed him to a professional contract. Szuper joined the Saint John Flames, Calgary's AHL affiliate, and won 17 games in his first professional season while helping the team win the league's championship, the Calder Cup. It was Szuper's third major championship in less than three seasons. Although he saw limited action during the playoffs, Szuper made one the greatest saves in Saint John's history by stopping Montreal prospect Mike Ribeiro on a penalty shot during sudden-death overtime in a critical second-round game.
Last season, Szuper was one of the few players from the Calder Cup winning squad to return to Saint John. The Baby Flames struggled to score goals for most of the season and Szuper received very little support from his teammates. Still, he managed to finish among the league leaders in the AHL with a 2.42 goals against average and a team-record five shutouts. Despite this, Saint John did not make the playoffs and finished their season in early April. However, as luck would have it, Szuper was able to join the Hungarian team at the Division II World Championships in his hometown of Budapest, where he was, once again, named a tournament all-star while leading his country to a silver medal.
What does the future hold for the player that success seems to follow? Clearly, he has his sights set on playing in the NHL. This month, he's competing for a full-time job along with journeyman back-up Jamie McLennan at Calgary's training camp. Although the veteran McLennan and his one-way contract likely has the upper-hand to back-up Roman Turek, the Flames will take a long look at Szuper, who is currently the undisputed #3 goalie on the depth chart.
Last season, 23 NHL teams, including the Flames, used at least three goaltenders. That means there is a very good chance that Szuper could make his NHL debut in the upcoming season and become the first Hungarian to play in the league.
But regardless of what he does in the future, Szuper has already proved his critics wrong with his track record of success in North American and International competition.
"It is stupid to say someone can't do something because of where they are born", says Szuper, "I think -- I hope -- I have helped prove that is wrong."
Aaron McCracken can be reached at