Well the 2011-2012 ice hockey eason is underway in Metulla, Israel. As I've explained in earlier blog entries on this site, this is the northernmost point in Israel. From Ra'anana, the drive is 177 km, each way.
Nevertheless, every two weeks, the list is filled with 30 players and 2 goalies - most of whom drive at least 2 hours to come and play ice hockey. They come from Jerusalem, Ra'anana, Tel-Aviv, Modin and many other Israeli cities and towns.
The games are non-contact and are set up with three lines, divided by skill level. This is great for a guy like me. I get to play on the third line with the other shleppers (hacks). The first line is actually quite fast-paced hockey and is fun to watch. Some of the players played Junior hockey in Canada or U.S. College hockey so they are quite good. The 2nd line is in between. Sometimes it is faster than other times, depending on which players have shown up. The lines are changed up fairly evenly and everyone gets to play for about 1/3 of the 1 1/2 hour ice time slot. There are almost always two goalies with full equipment.
On the way to the game, I had to make my way through 1/2 hour or so of Ra'anana traffic, just to get onto the toll road (Route 6) (known as the Yitzhak Rabin Highway). The exit out of Ra'anana to Route 6 is really poorly designed and is especially crazy during rush hour. We had to leave at about 5:30 p.m. to get to the rink on time. Apparently, the traffic problem is being fixed with the development of a new highway next to Ra'anana, due to open over the next couple of years.
Once on the highway, the speed limit is 110 and there isn't too much traffic so you can make it up north reasonably quickly. In total, the drive to Metulla took about 2 1/2 hours. We made it to the area by about 7:50 p.m. - which gave us enough time to grab a coffee at Aroma at the shopping mall in Kiryat Shemona, the last "big town" before Metulla, about 10 km away.
Getting to play on the same line as my son is quite fun, though I have to say, he is becoming a much better hockey player than me. Nevertheless, I managed to score a goal...which is pretty rare.
Aside from these bi-weekly Thursday night games, the Israeli Hockey Association is running a tournament with the same rule set up from February 6 to 10, 2012. They have been doing this annually and attract players from all over the world. Players can come in teams or can come individually and be placed on teams. The tournament is designed to raise awareness of ice hockey in Israel and to encourage tourists to come and visit Israel, while spending a bit of time playing some hockey. Two years ago, legendary Canadian hockey player Paul Henderson dropped the puck at the opening game of the tournament.
For those who are planning to be in Israel at some point but cannot make the tournament, there are sometimes spots available for casual players who want to come out and play at one of the games on a Thursday night. In fact, the association even lends equipment to players who didn't manage to bring their full gear to Israel.
The Thursday night games are attended by a great group of guys (and sometimes a young woman or two). After the games some of the players go for a swim in the pool, which is part of the ice rink complex (fittingly named the "Canada Centre"). Others head to Kiryat Shemona to have a post-game Shawarma, usually at a small kosher take-out place called "Shlomi's Baguette."
The drive back to Ra'anana, without any traffic can take as little as about 1 1/2 hours, so we were able to make it back by about 1:30 a.m. With the cost of the ice time (about $45 per player) and the crazy prices of gas in Israel, this is a fairly expensive activity. But getting on to the ice for an hour and a half in Israel is really a great time, especially if you are a Canadian.