Work of art
by Erin Brown|27 JUL 2022
Reka Dabasi celebrates a goal with her teammates during the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Calgary.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Sidelined with an injury three years ago, Reka Dabasi wanted to keep her mind busy while away from hockey.

She downloaded Adobe Photoshop, started watching video tutorials and went to work creating a fusion of sports imagery and digital art.

Connor McDavid. Tom Brady. LeBron James. Ronaldo. Roger Federer.

Dabasi started sharing the professional-quality art on her Instagram account in February 2020 and has added 180 since. She produced similar graphics for Hungary’s KMH Budapest and the Premier Hockey Federation’s Toronto Six.

“You can really get in the zone doing both (hockey and graphic design),” Dabasi said. “Doing graphic design is more relaxing, I think. I'm sitting there for like two or three hours and then it's good.”
A little harder to find in her feed, however, is a display of her artistry on the ice as one of Hungary’s longest-tenured women’s players. That stands to change in the near future as the playmaker takes her game to bigger stages.

A veteran of the Hungarian women’s national team for 10 years, Dabasi will skate once again at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship before making her North American professional debut in the fall with the Premier Hockey Federation’s Metropolitan Riveters.

Dabasi played in Hungary’s top-level debut at the 2021 Women's Worlds, but the tournament took place behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“That was a bit challenging, but it was a really great experience to have the chance to play in Calgary,” the 25-year-old said. “I think we still had a bit of nerves. That there was no relegation may have made it a bit less stressful. I think we were still nervous especially in the first game against Germany, but I hope we won't be nervous anymore next month.”

Dabasi is a highlight of a Hungarian program on the rise. She began skating at the age of 9 and soon fell in love with hockey for its speed and teamwork with a group she considers "a second family."

During her teenage years, the Hungarian government chose to heavily invest in the nation’s sports infrastructure. Hockey has benefitted from having new ice facilities during the past eleven years.

On the women’s side, the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation prioritized creating a foundation through the U18 program. Dabasi was 14 at the time and part of Hungary’s U18 debut team in 2012 which earned promotion. She skated with the top-level team the next two years as well.

“We had a really big core group who played together for a long period of time,” Dabasi said. “So that was one of our really big strengths, that we really knew each other.”

Upon joining Hungary’s senior team, she assisted in its climb from Division IB in 2015 to punching its ticket to the top tier on home ice in 2019.

“It was amazing,” Dabasi said. “We had a lot of fans come, especially to the last game. We had fans who couldn't even get inside because they sold out. That was a great experience and memory.”

The KMH Budapest captain most recently completed her 10th season in the Austria-based cross-border EWHL, recording career highs in assists (26) and points (32) in 15 games en route to the team’s fourth straight championship. The first title, she said, was “the hardest one. Before we won the first one, I felt we were getting closer, but we just couldn't (win). It was a big relief when we finally won the league.”

And while she continues to help build her nation’s profile as a player, Dabasi also works with the U14 team. She said it's common among her teammates to be involved in girls’ programs because of their gratitude for the ones who started playing way before them.

“They didn't really have good support behind them, but they kept going,” Dabasi said. “We're lucky because by the time we grew up, we had all the infrastructure and people who supported the whole women's hockey idea.

“So, yes, we do (feel a responsibility). A lot of our players are coaching in the national team program. I think women's hockey is on a nice path in Hungary right now. It's nice to see.”
Reka Dabasi (M) was named one of the top-3 players of her team with Lotti Odnoga (L) and Fanni Gasparics (R).
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
In the fall, she will become the first Hungarian player — male or female — to skate in a top North American professional league. There hasn’t been a female professional player from Hungary in North America yet. In men’s hockey the highest level reached by a Hungarian-trained player has been the AHL by the likes of Janos Vas, Arpad Mihaly and Levente Szuper. The latter was a backup goalie for nine NHL games with the Calgary Flames but didn’t get any ice time in the top league.

Dabasi and teammate Fanni Gasparics were selected by the Toronto Six and Minnesota Whitecaps, respectively, in the PHF’s 2021 international draft. But neither opted to play overseas that season.

In Dabasi’s case, finishing her Master’s degree in sports administration was the priority. She also had a contract with KMH Budapest.

A year later, Riveters President Digit Murphy, who drafted Dabasi when she held the same position in Toronto, reached out again with a new offer.

This time Dabasi said yes.

“It was basically a no-brainer because I really wanted to try something new and we had won four consecutive seasons,” she said. “It was a good exit, and I also needed some new motivation.”

The prospect of playing in the New York City area, with all of her passions converging, excites Dabasi.

For one, she will be joining a Metropolitan team full of international flair. Led by head coach Vena Hovi, a three-time Olympian with Finland, and associate coach Ivo Mocek of Czechia, the Riveters will have player representation from five nations. She's also hoping to learn more on the sports management side.

Away from the ice, Dabasi can fuel the inspiration for her art by taking a quick trip into the media capital or catch her subjects in action at an NHL, NFL or NBA game.

"I'm just feeling lucky to be able to play with them, Olympians and even players who won at the Olympics. It's really exciting and I'm looking forward to learn from them."