Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Israeli National Ice Hockey Team - Big Win at IIHF Championship vs. New Zealand

The Israeli national ice hockey team had a great day today, scoring a 3-2 win over New Zealand at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Izmit, Turkey.  Israel and New Zealand play in Division II, group B, which includes other hockey powerhouses Bulgaria, China, Mexico and Turkey.

After three games of round robin competition, Israel now sits in first place, undefeated so far.  They play Bulgaria tomorrow and Mexico on Saturday.  The winner of this tournament will move up to play in Division II, Group A at next year's IIHF tournament.

Israeli ice hockey star Daniel Erlich
In another game today, Mexico defeated Bulgaria 8-7 in a shootout.  Mexico has one loss.  However, because it won in overtime today, it will not be able to catch Israel in the standings if Israel wins one of its two remaining games.  Only New Zealand is still a threat to Israel's first place position if Israel drops its two remaining games or  even if it loses one and ties one.    A win tomorrow against Bulgaria (which is winless so far) and Israel would be almost certain to win the tournament.   

Prior to this year, the Israeli national team's best achievement was a trip to Divison I following a big win in 2005 in the Division II group A tournament.  They were quickly relegated back to Division II the following year.

Israel's current national team is coached by Canadian Jean Peron.

Israeli ice hockey star Oren Eizenman
Three of the tournament's five top scorers in this group so far are Israelis, including Daniel Erlich (of the University of Western Ontario), Oren Eizenman and Maxim Birbraer who are 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. 

None of this is likely to make the headlines in Israel, which is obsessed with soccer and basketball and has little time for ice hockey.  Perhaps, if Israel actually wins the tournament, there will be some press coverage.

However, with the opening of the Israel's second major ice facility in Holon, there is a real opportunity for Israel to continue to develop its ice hockey program.  Aspiring Israeli ice hockey players will be able to train in the centre of the country and will not have to travel more than 150 km to Metullah for some ice time.

Even with more ice time in Holon, the Israeli ice hockey team is not likely to threaten Canada any time soon.   But a spot in group A of Division II would see Israel play against a group of higher calibre teams next year.  The real goal would be to try to win that tournament and secure a spot in Division I for the following year.  It will take some really shifty stickhandling for Israel to score a spot in that world class Division.

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