With Hungary making its debut at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship, Lisa Haley jumped at the chance to be a part of the team’s journey as head coach
One hundred and twenty six days. That is how long Lisa Haley has had to
quarantine in her journey as the head coach of Hungary’s national women’s
Before she was able to be considered an essential worker, the 48-year-old
would fly to Budapest for a training camp and then return to Canada for her
two-week quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every time I went, it was basically about a 24-day commitment,” Haley
says. “I usually have anywhere from one-to-three days out of quarantine
jail and then I’m back on a plane.”
The ability to juggle such a demanding schedule would not have been
possible without support from her family and Ryerson University, where she
is the head coach of the Rams’ women’s hockey team. But despite the taxing
travel demands of the head coaching position, the Westville, N.S., native
says she has no regrets.
“I think it’s just been a wonderful experience and honestly arriving here
in Calgary finally after going through the heartache in April [when the
Nova Scotia government cancelled the tournament two weeks before it was due
to begin] … it’s been a dream to get here.”
International hockey is not foreign to Haley. She spent years with Hockey
Canada as an assistant coach with Canada’s National Women’s Team, including
four appearances at the IIHF Women’s World Championship and a gold medal at
the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. She also has experience as head coach of
Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team and Canada’s National Women’s
After the 2020-21 U SPORTS season was cancelled due to the pandemic, Haley
was approached by Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer with the Hungarian Ice Hockey
Federation to see if she would be interested in spending the year with the
“[After] my first conversation with her, I was convinced I was going to do
it,” Haley says. “Knowing the success that Hungary has shown as such a
small hockey country… they’re on the right trajectory and I couldn’t resist
the opportunity to be a part of that build.”
The 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship marks Hungary’s debut in the top
division of women’s international hockey. The team earned its promotion on
home ice at the Division I Group A worlds in 2019.
The pandemic has made it a long two-year wait for the team, but the players
are thrilled the time has come for them to hit the ice.
“We can’t wait to play,” says Hungarian captain Fanni Gasparics. “We are
really excited as a team. We feel honoured to be here.”
This is the first time in Gasparics’ 19-year playing career that she has a
woman as her head coach. She says she didn’t know what to expect, but she
has enjoyed Haley’s coaching style and the structure she has helped bring
to the team.
“She [taught] us to not to be afraid to play hard around the boards and win
the one-on-one battles, because she knows what top-division hockey is
like,” she says.
The standard and quality of work Haley learned with Hockey Canada was
something she implemented when she began her coaching contract with the
“I really just tried to do a lot of the things that Hockey Canada had
taught me in terms of fitness testing and trying to build a sound
conditioning program to make the players as strong and fast as they could
[be] off the ice,” Haley says.
“It was an opportunity just to teach those high standards and reap the
rewards of it. I think our team has improved immensely since we started
Throughout her coaching tenure, Haley says she likes to emphasize support,
positivity and clear communication. That style of coaching has really
resonated with Gasparics. The open communication has allowed confidence
within the players’ games and confidence in player-coach relationships.
“I think my favourite thing is that she trusts me, and she told me that a
couple of times one-on-one,” Gasparics says. “She trusts me as a player and
she gets to know me, and I know that she appreciates my work as a player.
That makes me feel good.”
The last few weeks leading up to the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship
have been filled with highs and lows for Hungary. Haley says they lost
three players within the span of 48 hours: two were unable to get their
Hungarian citizenship paperwork in time and Alexandra Huszak, a key player
for the team, suffered an injury in the final days of camp.
“It was a bit of a tumultuous camp, but we quickly overcame that and had
our eyes focused forward on the group that’s here,” Haley says. “We have a
group of 24 players here who are going to do everything they can to give us
the most success.”
Coming into its first women’s worlds, the goal for Team Hungary is to make
it past the preliminary round to play in elimination games. Nevertheless,
looking back at her journey so far with the team, Haley’s favourite moment
was being able to walk into the rink with her players for the first time in
“They’ve been dreaming of this for two years,” she says. “For two years,
the dream has been on hold. It was such an emotional day to step into the
rink [with them] for the first time.”
At the end of the day, whether she’s navigating quarantine requirements to
fly to Budapest or is back home working with Canadian players, Haley wants
to support the women’s game in any way she can.
“The bottom line why I do any of this is to be a part of the growth of the
game, whether that’s coaching with Team Hungary or working with the NWHL,”
she says. “That’s really my mission, [it’s] to be a part of trying to get
women’s hockey the exposure that it deserves and the professional
opportunity that it deserves.”