Preparations are already underway to reclaim for Canada another international hockey title as well as bragging rights in the Jewish sports world.
Canadian organizers of the World Jewish Hockey Championship are scouting potential talent and putting out the word they are looking for skaters interested in travelling to Israel in July 2009 to compete for the title. Last summer, the jet-lagged Canadians dropped an early decision to the host Israelis and never recovered, finishing third in the four-team tournament.
The powerhouse U.S. team, bolstered by NHL prospect Nathan Davis (now with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL), won the title, defeating Israel in the championship game. Canada finished ahead of only France.
The same quartet of countries is likely to reprise the 2007 tournament, said Alex Voihanski, general manager of the Canadian team. In addition, organizers are planning a junior tournament of under-17 players to run parallel to the senior competition. Canada is planning to ice two junior teams as are the Americans. Israel and a European team will round out the competition.
All games will be played at the Canada Center in Metulla, on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.
The tournament, which runs from July 5-17, will overlap with the Maccabiah Games, which get under way in central Israel later the same month.
In preparation for the hockey event, a training and orientation camp is planned for this summer, likely in June, Voihanski stated. Not only will it permit coaches to evaluate the players, but it will give organizers the opportunity to discuss the off-ice benefits of visiting Israel.
For many participants last year, the visit to Israel was a real eye-opener and it afforded the opportunity to reconnect with their Jewish roots. Many were in Israel for the first time and were moved by the visit to the Western Wall as well as Tiberias and other noteworthy sites, he said.
What’s more, the hockey was very high calibre. Players gave good efforts on the ice and then met their opponents in the local bar in an admirable display of camaraderie, he said.
Games were almost all sold out, with as many as 1,500 spectators taking in the action, including Israeli soldiers stationed on the border near by. The atmosphere was festive with fans employing soccer chants during the action.
“It was a massive success, beyond our wildest dreams,” Voihanski said.l
The only thing missing for Canada was a victory. Voihanski maintains that had all the eligible players suited up for Canada, the true north could have walked away with the title. But players like Michael and Adam Henrich, Eric Himelfarb, Corey Pecker and David Nemirovsky were unavailable, many because they were free agents looking for a contract. With those players and the likes of Jacob Micflikier, and East Coast all-star Trevor Smith, a forward with Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League, Canada will be tough to beat in 2009, Voihanski said.