TORONTO — Is it too early to refer to the Israeli Stars of David as a hockey dynasty?
Let’s see – you’ve got the 1956-60 Montreal Canadiens. They were pretty good. There were the Leafs teams of the early 1960s. They won four Cups. The Islanders and the Habs later won four in a row and the Oilers hoisted Lord Stanley’s silver-plated mug five times in seven years.
So when the Stars of David won their fourth title in six years in the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships, it pretty much qualified them to be mentioned right up there with hockey’s elite.
Removing tongue from cheek, it was undeniable that the Stars were again the class of the annual winter hockey tournament, which brought together teams representing various Toronto ethnic communities.
The Stars defeated Japanese Arashi 6-0 in the Dec. 30 title game. They went 3-0 in the round-robin portion of the tournament, 2-0 in the playoffs, gave up five goals in five games, captured three of the top four spots in the scoring race and had one of its players, right winger and scoring leader Seth Klerer, named tournament MVP.
Other teams to compete in the tournament’s premier division were the Irish Shamrocks, the Italian Gladiators, the Macedonian Lions, the Russian Kremlins, the Hellenic Lightning and the Nubian Kings.
About 60 or 70 friends and family came out to witness the Stars’ domination in the championship game, played at Chesswood Arena. The Stars dominated right from the start, drawing a penalty in the first 15 seconds and scoring moments later on the power play. They never looked back.
The Arashi, a strong skating team with respectable goaltending, barely dented the Stars’ defence, hitting the post once late in the game when the result was not in doubt, but creating no sustained pressure.
The Stars, coached and managed by Alex Voihanski, looked like a well-oiled machine by comparison. They threw the puck around with tape to tape passes, broke up Arashi rushes at both bluelines, were quick in transition and peppered the Arashi netminder with shot after shot, generating numerous chances on rebounds, which the goaltender generously provided. They had great chances off the rush, on scrambles, off the cycle and on odd-man rushes.
“This is the best game we’ve every played,” Voihanski said in the subdued winner’s dressing room afterward, as the boys enjoyed an adult beverage.
“I think we dominated. We played a really strong game. The early goal set the tone for the game. We just played a smart, strong defensive game. We didn’t give them a sniff.”
Though the Arashi were badly outclassed, the Stars were given a scare the night before in the semifinal by the Polish Hussars. Though they out-chanced and out-shot the Hussars by a three- or four-to-one margin, they led only 3-1 late into the third period, Voihanski said.
Then, in the last five minutes, the Hussars scored two goals to tie it up. With overtime looming, and with only 50 seconds left on the clock, the Hussars’ goalie miscued on a clearing attempt. Klerer jumped on the puck, and – boom – it was 4-3. Game over.
Jordan Weinberg, left, and defence partner Aaron Stein
“It was a bang-bang goal,” Voihanski said. “Thankfully, the hockey gods were on our side.”
Only a few weeks before the tournament, Voihanski was wondering whether he’d bring together the guys to compete this year. But then, he started receiving phone calls. The core of the team, which has been together for five or six years, wanted to know when the games began.
Spurred on by the guys, Voihanski registered the team and started bringing them back together. In the end, he put together a team he considers the best of all the Stars’ championship squads.
What elevated this version of the Stars over previous incarnations was depth, he said.
They rolled three lines and had a deep defence corps, he said.
For Klerer, who played NCAA Division 1 hockey with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., it was his first time suiting up for the Davids. “We’re a pretty highly skilled team with three lines,” he said. "We move the puck well.”
Playing on a line with Alon Eizenman, who played for several years in the French professional league and was a member of the Israeli national team, and Adam Weinberg, the trio meshed immediately. Klerer plays with Eizenman in a men’s league, “so we have some chemistry,” he said.
Defenceman Jordan Weinberg, the middle brother of three Weinbergs on the team, has played for the Stars for five of its six years at the tournament. In that, he’s not alone.
“We’re the same group of guys for over five years now,” he said.
Weinberg, who played Junior A for the North York Rangers, said “you’ve got to trust in your teammates. One of the advantages of playing for so many ears is that everybody has a role. It’s like a kibbutz. You do your job and it’s knowing what you can accomplish. Nobody has to do too much.”
Bryan Weinberg, a forward at York University, rounds out the family’s brother act. But they weren’t the only trio of brothers on the team. They were joined by the Schwartz brothers – Jesse (who’ll play for the University of Connecticut next year), Noah and Brendan.
Other team members included Sergei Frenkel, who has played for the Israeli national team, Darryl Karpel, Thomas Zubrick, Jordan Klein, Aaron Stein, John Garbe and Daniel Mazour. They were backstopped by Jake DiDimenico, who plays for York University.