Israel has never exactly been synonymous with hockey, but 150 miles north of Tel Aviv in the city of Metulla, hockey has found a home.
On July 5, four teams will take center stage on center ice at the Canada Center in the second Jewish Championship tournament, the first time the event will feature both a senior and a junior division.
The U.S. Under-17 Select Jewish Team is comprised of 17 players hailing from all corners of the country from traditional hockey hotbeds such as New York and Michigan and some nontraditional areas as well. More than half the team calls Florida, California or Arizona home.
When Director of Player Personnel Sam Greenblatt and Head Coach Paul Lubanski hit the pavement to recruit players for the team, they had no official tryout to see everyone at once but rather a collection of game film on each player under consideration. They used their contacts to learn about potential athletes they didn’t know about and spoke to coaches and other references to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of each individual.
With a team made up of kids from various geographical areas, the team won’t officially meet for the first time until right before they leave for Israel and will only have enough time to squeeze in a single 45-minute practice before their first game.
“There are kids who know each other and who have played against each other, but as a team it’s going to be all new,” says Lubanski. “They know what’s at stake and they know what we’re asking. I’ve spoken to every one of these kids on several occasions so they know what we expect and for the most part and the type of hockey we’re going to play.”
For many on the U.S. roster, the tournament is also a chance to be seen. Whether it’s coaches or other administrators involved with the teams, connections to various junior leagues throughout North America are all over, potentially helping to further each player’s career in hockey.
“At a tournament like this, there will be some high level people observing,” Lubanski says. “It will give these kids from Arizona and California, if they’re really serious about playing, an opportunity to make some connections that can possibly get them the opportunity to play somewhere on the Junior level that they may not have had before.”
As more than 400 players converge on Metulla, it becomes evident that the Jewish Championships serve as much more than just a hockey tournament. It provides the opportunity for the Jewish players to learn about Israel’s past and culture through trips to historical areas, an experience that can be life changing for all involved. On the off days of the tournament, the U.S. team will travel to Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, among other destinations.
“The heritage part of it is very important,” Greenblatt says. “They can see, some of them for the first time in their life, what Israel is all about.”
The first Jewish Championship featured senior teams from the United States, France, Canada and Israel and has already grown to include a Russian team and the addition of the junior division. The Israeli Ice Hockey Federation hopes to make this an event that takes place every two years while gradually increasing the number of participating countries. With two Canadian teams participating in this year’s tournament, there’s no shortage of competition for the U.S. team.
“They’re very serious about wanting to win,” Lubanski says. “But I got news for them – we are, too. Our goal is to win every shift and every period and every game. That’s the way we’re going to approach it.”
|U.S. Under-17 Select Jewish Team Roster|
|Jared Lenner||Boca Raton, Fla.|
|Laimie Leonoff||Boca Raton, Fla.|
|Aaron Arm||Boca Raton, Fla.|
|Nathan Bloomfield||Lakewood, Calif.|
|Jacob Weisman||Scottsdale, Ariz.|
|Kyle Zelanka||Lynbrook, N.Y.|
|Brandon Berkley||Scottsdale, Ariz.|
|Jared Lowell||Northbrook, Ill.|
|Aaron Schencopp||Berkley, Mich.|
|Ori Benyamini||Woodmere, N.Y.|
|Max Blumenfeld||Old Westbury, N.Y.|
|Brett Lubanski||Farmington Hills, Mich.|
|Greg Perlman||Boca Raton, Fla.|
|Ben Pulley||Huntington Valley, Pa.|
|Dan Stern||Manhattan, N.Y.|
|Ben Suchin||Anaheim Hills, Calif.|
|Russell Suskind||Hollywood, Fla.|
|Head Coach: Paul Lubanski|
|Assistant Coach & Director of Player Personnel: Sam Greenblatt|
|Team Hostess: Helen Greenblatt|
|Team Physician/Head Trainer: Dr. Alan Ashare|
|Mascot and Stickboy: Daniel Cutler|