Amazing accomplishment: An Israeli
hockey team of children ages 11 to 13 took first place in an international tournament recently, beating 91 other teams – all without ever stepping on the ice prior to competition.
The kids, mostly from Bat Yam and Rishon Lezion, dreamed of practicing their hockey moves at a real hockey rink with real ice. Unfortunately the only hockey rink in the entire State of Israel is located up north in Metula, so the inventive team decided to play street hockey instead using rollerblades.
The team, consisting of 17 Israelis, recently competed in a Canadian tournament. They call themselves "The Bat Yam Club" despite the fact that the group members also come from Rishon Lezion as well as two other children from Ma'alot who regularly play ice hockey on real ice.
Many of the teams which took part in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament 2011 came from countries where ice hockey is very popular and played by tens of thousands of kids, including: Canada, the United States, Finland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and more.
Israel was considered to be an underdog in the competition due to the fact that Israeli kids, unlike most of the children participating, only practice their hockey moves on dry ground using rollerblades instead of hockey skates. The Israeli team gets to play at the ice rink in Metula only a few times a year.
The Israeli team was able to participate in the Quebec tournament thanks to a donation made by Jewish-Canadian millionaire Sidney Greenberg who paid for most of the expenses. The kids stayed with Canadian families. The families of the children only paid for plane tickets, costing each family about NIS 3,800 ($1,051) per ticket.
The State of Israel did not, of course, contribute a single cent.
"We had five tournament matches, including the final match, and we won them all. The tournament organizers couldn't believe these kids, who barely even know what real ice hockey looks like," said Aaron Aharonovich, chairman of the Rishon Lezion hockey club. Together with his Bat Yam counterpart Evgeny Gusin, the two produces and organized the Israeli delegation sent to the tournament.
If winning is not enough, exhibition matches were held after the official games and the Israeli team came out on top once more, beating two teams from Canada and France. They also tied with another Canadian team and only lost once – to Switzerland.
"Honestly I couldn't believe that these kids could play like that. There was lots of fighting spirit, lots of tactical discipline. We were definitely the talk of the day in the tournament: 'How could these Middle Eastern guys, most of whom had barely seen any snow in their lives, managed to beat the ice super-powers and take the trophy?'" added Aharonovich.
Team Captain Dani Bodnikov, 13, said: "It was an amazing experience to play in such a big tournament and see such high level hockey teams."
The outstanding player in the tournament, David Levin, 11.5, said: "It was an incredible feeling to score goals in such a big tournament and beat Canadian groups."
Liorr Shein, 13, added: "I couldn't believe we, who practice mostly on roller skates, would be able to bring home the gold medal."