ST. PAUL -- It’s not often that a goalie makes a strong impression while losing three-straight games. But Adam Vay
did just that, backstopping Team Hungary in the 2016 IIHF World Championships in May, earning himself an opportunity with the Wild organization by signing a two-year, entry-level contract.
Vay was the best player on a Hungarian team that was largely over-matched against traditional hockey powers like Canada, Finland and the United States during the tournament. Hungary didn’t win a game with Vay in goal, but Vay often kept things from getting wildly out of hand.
Despite a 3.67 goals against average, Vay posted a respectable .911 save percentage.
“Our scouts and our goaltending guys felt like he was worth the investment,” said Wild Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “He was playing against some of the top players in the world. He’s raw and he has some things to work on but he has terrific size, he’s very athletic and he’s in great shape.”
Vay was born in Budapest but lived for a time in Slovakia when he was younger. It was there that his love of hockey began. But when he and his family moved back to Hungary, his ability to find quality ice time became much more difficult.
“In Slovakia, there are more people that play in the NHL,” Vay said. “In Hungary, if you’re getting older, they laugh and ask [Why do you want to play in the NHL?] I always loved the NHL, watched the NHL and it was always my dream to play in the NHL.”
If Vay is able to realize his dream, he would become the first Hungarian to play a game in the National Hockey League. Levente Szuper and Janos Vas are the only two Hungarians to have been drafted by NHL clubs, but both saw their careers stall in the American Hockey League before eventually going back to Europe.
“They always tell me ‘I can do it,’ they believe in me,” Vay said of his fans back home.
Vay is not without experience in the North American game. He went 28-4-0 with a 2.03 goals against average and a .923 save percentage with the El Paso Rhinos of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) in 2014-15. He was 25-1-0 for El Paso in 2013-14, leading the Rhinos to the Thorne Cup and National Championship.
And while the WSHL is a long ways from the National Hockey League, the Wild believes it has found a diamond in the rough capable of playing with the big club someday down the road.
“He’s got potential to be an NHL goaltender, for sure,” said Wild Goaltending Coach Bob Mason. “He’s 22 and he’s 6-foot-5; that size, he’s quick, he’s hungry and he seems to be a good student of the game. Those are the things you look for.”
Despite his stellar numbers in the WSHL, Vay wasn’t getting much attention until playing for Hungary in the world championships. He debuted in a relief role, stopping 11 of 12 shots against Canada on May 8 before making 48 saves in a 3-0 loss to Finland. He stopped 35 more shots in a 5-1 loss to the United States two days later, getting on the radar of several NHL teams.
At the time, Vay didn’t have an agent, and had several agents fighting for the right to represent him. Fortunately for the Wild, Goaltending Development cCach Frederic Chabot knew Hungary coach Rich Chernomaz, giving the team a leg up.
“It just worked out,” Flahr said. “I think we were one of the first teams that spoke to him and that helped out as well.”
Where Vay ends up this season will likely depend on if he is able to carry over his solid performance in this week’s development camp. He made 26 saves during the first scrimmage on Thursday and will get one more game-type situation in another scrimmage on Sunday.
“It felt a little bit like I was in the World Championship because it was so fast,” Vay said. “This for me, it wasn’t new. I gave up a couple of goals, but they are really good players [in camp] so I don’t feel bad.”
With the goaltending situation in Minnesota set, Vay will compete for the backup spot in Iowa with Stephen Michalek behind free-agent signee Alex Stalock. He could also find himself playing for the club’s ECHL affiliate in Quad City, where he would get a good opportunity to play more games.
“I think it’s important for him to play and play a lot,” Flahr said. “It’s a transition. We’ll see how camp plays out for him and see where he fits.”