It’s a dream come true for Itamar Amiel. The 13-year-old from Tel Aviv recently completed a five-day hockey camp in Cole Harbour, N.S., hosted by the community’s favourite son, and Itamar’s idol, Sidney Crosby.
Itamar has been playing hockey in Israel for only a couple of years, but is showing the skills needed to advance from a B league to an A league in his age group. His goal is to eventually train with the Israel National Under-18 team and qualify to represent his country in world competition.
But at the camp, on the same ice where Crosby grew his game to become the superstar he is now, Itamar trained with 160 other youngsters. He has no trouble keeping pace with his peers, even though many of them have been on skates since they were five years old and play scores of games each winter.
There are only two artificial skating surfaces in Israel, one in Tel Aviv and one in Metulla, in the north. Itamar is lucky to get three, three-hour practices a week, but nothing diminishes his love for the game he first saw played late one night, when he and his father, Jonathan Amiel, watched the 2014 World Cup of Hockey on television.
“Crosby played that game,” says Itamar. “I had heard of him, but more of (Alexander) Ovechkin, because many of my hockey teammates were of Russian descent. I don’t see many games live because of the time difference, but (I saw) some re-runs. I did see the final game of this year’s Stanley Cup final, though (which was won by Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins).”
His first skating experience was in August 2014 at the BMO Centre in Hammonds Plains, N.S., with his grandfather. He liked it, and even saw Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado) and Brad Marchand (Boston) skate on another surface of the four-pad arena. That was a “wow” moment for him, an incentive to keep on with the game.
His father sent an application to the Sidney Crosby Hockey School last spring, one of about 3,000 from around the world. Jonathan Amiel, an Israeli resident for the past 22 years, had planned a visit to Halifax at that time to visit his family. It was part of a five-week trip to North America for Jonathan, his wife Lilach and their children Itamar and Daniel. They went to Disney World, the New York City area, Niagara Falls and Toronto, but Itamar says nothing tops the hockey school.
“When I saw the acceptance letter from the camp, I cried with happiness,” says Itamar. “And when I stepped on the Cole Harbour ice for the first time, I was the happiest kid in the world.”
That was July 10, Itamar’s 13th birthday, “the best birthday ever,” he remarked. He celebrated his bar mitzvah at Halifax’s Beth Israel Synagogue on July 15.
Itamar has travelled farthest among the 160 campers. All Canadian provinces and territories, plus dozens of U.S. states, are taking part in the intense on- and off-ice sessions.
“I’m learning things at the camp that I’d never learn in Israel,” says Itamar. “Today, it was turning with and without the puck, stickhandling and shooting. My shot is pretty hard, but I miss (the net) a lot.”
“Today, too, Sid demonstrated a few things for our group. He’s a pretty good hockey player,” Itamar, an avid Penguins fan, says with a grin.