Eight NCAA Division I players, five competing in European pro leagues and a handful of OHL and tier-two junior players, make up the bulk of the Canadian roster that will compete for hockey gold at the 2013 Maccabiah Games.
AHL centre Trevor Smith, who played 16 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, is the biggest name on the roster, but hockey maven Alex Voihanski said the team is deep in talent and should compete for top spot at the Games.
Team Canada will likely face the stiffest competition from the U.S. squad, which has a large number of NCAA players to choose from. France and Israel will also ice teams.
The four-country tournament, to be held at the Canada Centre rink in Metulla, marks only the second time in Maccabiah history that hockey is featured at the Games. In 1997, Canada sent a star-studded lineup that won the gold medal.
Voihanski, who is largely responsible for assembling the 2013 team, said starting with the coaches, every effort is being made to ensure the athletes get a first-class experience in Israel.
Team Canada’s bench boss will be “Iron” Mike Keenan, whose hockey resumé includes a Stanley Cup win with the New York Rangers and a Canada Cup victory in 1987. His assistants will be multiple Stanley Cup-winner Greg Gilbert, who coaches Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, and Mike Pelino, head coach of the OHL’s Peterborough Petes who also has a gold medal from his time with the Canada’s 2002 Olympic team.
The team will employ the “Team Canada” name and be outfitted in official Canadian gear, thanks to an agreement with Hockey Canada. Even the equipment manager and medical staff are associated with top-shelf organizations in the AHL and OHL, Voihanski said.
With the presence of so many quality hockey people, last June’s tryouts attracted top-shelf talent, of which there is no shortage in the Jewish community, Voihanski said.
This year’s squad should be very hard to beat, said Voihanski, who serves as general manager of International Scouting Services (ISS).
Seven of the players have NHL pedigrees, either as past or recent draft choices, or as minor leaguers playing for an NHL-affiliated team, he said.
“We’re very strong up front. The strength of the team is our forwards,” he said.
The talent level was so extensive that a lot of very good players were cut after a series of tryouts last spring. “It’s a very deep team. I can’t emphasize that enough,” he said.
It’s an old saw that a winning team needs strength down the middle, and Smith gets the team off to a good start in that department. The Ottawa-born and Vancouver-raised Smith plays for Wilkes-Barre Penguins, a Pittsburgh affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL). Last year, he played for the Calder Cup-winning Norfolk Admirals, finishing sixth in AHL scoring. In 64 games, he had 26 goals and 43 assists; in 18 playoff games, he scored five goals and added 11 helpers. He played 16 games in the NHL after being called up by the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring five points.
Joining Smith at centre are Andrew Calof and Daniel Radke, NCAA Division I players with Princeton and Lake Superior State respectively. Rounding out the position is Dylan Smoskowitz of the OHL Mississauga Steelheads. In 13 games with the Steelheads, he’s scored 11 goals and added four assists.
On the wings are some familiar names: Michael and Adam Henrich. Michael was a first-round pick, 13th overall, of the Edmonton Oilers in 1998, while Adam was chosen in the second round, 60th overall, by Tampa Bay in 2002. Both now play in Europe, Michael for Dorbirn EC in the Austria Premier League and Adam for Alleghe HC in the Italy Premier League.
The Henrichs are one of three brother combinations on the Canadian squad; Zachary and Spencer Hyman and Noah and Brendan Schwartz are the others.
Zach Hyman was a fifth-round selection of the Florida Panthers in 2010; Spencer plays defence for the Hamilton Red Wings in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Noah Schwartz is a wing with London Nationals in the GOJHL, another tier-two junior loop, while Brendan plays defence on the same team.
Other notables include Daniel Erlich, currently with the University of Western Ontario but a past OHL player with London Knights and Barrie Colts; Benjamin Rubin, who now plays with Brest Albatros in the elite French league and Cory Pecker, a winger with Sheffield Steelers in the top English league. Pecker has also donned Canadian colours twice before at the Spengler Cup and once, way back in 1997, with Team Canada at the Maccabiah Games. Pecker and Michael Henrich were 17-year-olds on that team, Voihanski noted.
Spencer Hyman is looking forward to the Israel experience and playing with his brother.
“When you play for Canada, a lot is expected of you,” he said.
The Maccabiah will mark his first-ever trip to Israel, though he’s been studying about the country for years. “I’m really interested in visiting Israel. I always wanted to go visit there,” he said.
Like his brother, he’s a graduate of the Robbins Hebrew Academy in Toronto. Two other brothers attended the school, while a fifth went to Leo Baeck. All five brothers are hockey players, Spencer said.
“Zach can score, and he can be a power forward as well. He’s a gifted offensive player. I’m a defensive defenceman. I prefer to shut guys down,” Spencer said.
At 19, he’s a little more than a year younger than Zach, and both played together for one year in Hamilton. After joining Zach on Team Canada, Spencer will join his brother next fall at the University of Michigan, where he’s earned a hockey scholarship.
Among the other players on team Canada are Daniel Altshuller, who is goaltender for the Oshawa Generals in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and Cody Rosen, who backstops Clarkson University, a NCAA Division 1 school.
Voihanski said the Maccabiah Games offers players a unique opportunity to visit the country while receiving elite-level coaching.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity and experience to be in the Maccabiah Games and to play for Keenan,” Voihanski said.
Even he is excited about the prospect of participating in the Maccabiah: “I can’t wait to get there and walk in front of 50,000 people [at the opening ceremonies],” he said.
* * *
Here’s Team Canada’s complete roster:
Centres: Andrew Calof, Princeton University; Daniel Radke, Lake Superior State; Trevor Smith, Wilkes-Barre Penguins; Dylan Smoskowitz, Mississauga Steelheads.
Wingers: Daniel Erlich, University of Western Ontario; David Friedmann, Robert Morris University; Adam Henrich, Alleghe HC; Michael Henrich, Dorbirn EC; Zachary Hyman, University of Michigan; Cory Pecker, Sheffield Steelers; Benjamin Rubin, Brest Albatros (France); Eric Satim, Knoxville Ice Bears; Noah Schwartz, London Nationals.
Defencemen: Ori Abramson, Providence College; Casey Fazekas, Morrum Gois (Sweden); Matthew Herskovitz, Providence College; Spencer Hyman, Hamilton Red Wings; Oriel McHugh, Oklahoma Blazers; Brendan Schwartz, London Nationals; Zach Sternberg, Lake Superior State.
Goalies: Daniel Altshuller, Oshawa Generals; Cody Rosen, Clarkson University.