“So, you’re from Canada? You can play ice hockey whenever you want then?”
This was the beginning of the first conversation I had with one of my students at the Canada/Israel Hockey School 2010.
I’m in Metulla, the northernmost city in Israel and a wrist shot away from the Lebanese border. Hockey is not the first thing you normally think of when you enter this part of the world. But talk to any of the kids in this program and hockey is ALL they want to talk about.
For many of these kids hockey starts outdoors, like it does with Canadians, but not on frozen rinks, but roller rinks. Or backyards, or anywhere that has any significant stretch of pavement. Much of the gear is roller hockey equipment as well. Outdoors with wheels – not blades – on their feet, these kids fall in love with the game of hockey and all dream of playing it on the ice but that’s tough in Israel. You see, Israel only has one rink.
And that’s where I’m teaching with Mike Mazeika, who works game operations with the Toronto Maple Leafs and also helps run their summer hockey school.
The Canada Centre is a modern, full-service athletic facility. Pools, basketball courts, weight room, massage tables, snack bar, shooting range and the main feature (and the primary reason this centre was built) and Olympic sized ice rink.
There’s also a great tribute to the late Roger Neilson, who taught hockey camps here in the summers leading up to his passing. They still speak glowingly about this hockey pioneer.
Jean Beliveau has been here, last year former NHLers Jeff Beukeboom and Steve Thomas taught the course I’m teaching this summer.
Back to roller hockey for a second.
This is primarily a skills-oriented camp for kids ages 7 to 17. There are a few older kids who have played for a few years but by-and-large the teaching here revolves around the main skill-set any hockey player needs to have: skating, passing, stick-handling and shooting.
We do drills. A lot of drills.
And much of it involves getting the roller hockey out of the ice hockey player.
You’ve seen roller puck before, right? Lots of wide turns and peeling away from the play. And on the first day of camp during either pylon drills or controlled scrimmage the turns were wide. I’ve seen ships buttonhook tighter. Six days into the camp and we’re getting there. The kids are learning how to use both their inside and outside edges and are learning a lesson that makes your legs ache but is a reality of playing hockey: when you lose the puck, wide turns don’t cut it. Stops and starts, dude. That’s how we roll (pardon the pun).
When I get back to Canada I’ll write a more thorough blog and post some pictures of the camp, the kids and this beautiful country but here’s a few things you may find of interest.
The ice here is much better than I expected. Sherry Bassin, general manager of the OHL’s Erie Otters, was here last year told and me the ice was soft and to make sure not to have my blades too sharp. But the rink is one of the most unique I’ve ever skated on. Maybe it’s because of the high temperatures (everyday is about 40 degrees) and humidity but this ice doesn’t get chewed up and it also doesn’t sweat. It’s just there. We skate for close to three hours at a session (two sessions per day, morning and evening) and we’ve cancelled the intermission flood just about everyday. Trust me, I play on worse ice in Canada on a consistent basis.
These kids want to skate and play. Non-stop. I’ve never seen kids take shorter water breaks and get right back to doing drills than I have at this camp. No groans for skating drills – matter of fact the only time we’ve heard any groans is when we have to come off the ice to make way for the public skating.
I think much of that last point has to do with access to ice and how much time these kids spend away from the rink. As I mentioned earlier, Metulla has the only rink in the country and we have kids at this camp from Tel Aviv, Arad, Ashod, Netanya, Afula and towns along the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. They don’t get much chance to play so when they do, they make it count. Give me that player to coach/teach any day over a kid who mails it in each practice because s/he’s burned out from playing too much hockey.
I must give a nod, and everyone here does on a daily basis, to Sidney Greenberg who through his own generosity and love of spreading this game around the world makes this camp possible. Greenberg finances the whole thing. Levav Weinberg – a farmer by day and hockey player by night) runs it and organizes it (and does a tremendous job) but it is Sid Greenberg who makes it all possible financially. He gathers equipment and sends it to Israel (strange and very cool seeing Goulding Park Rangers jerseys on the kids in Israel). Every kid here goes out on the ice with a full and complete set of gear including skates that fit. Greenberg is spoken of as a hero here in Metulla and for good reason. These kids will never be the same because of him.
I spoke to the mayor of Druze Village, 40 minutes outside of Metulla near the Golan Heights, where a lot of the kids come from. He said he encourages his people to send their children to the camp because it keeps them off the streets, keeps them healthy and he mentioned that every kid comes back with a new sports skill that fills them with pride. It’s true – you can see it with each session. There are few things better than watching a young boy or girl the first time they stop correctly, or take a hard pass, learn a wrist shot or score a goal. The smiles are ear-to-ear.
Best random question: At hockey school you get every kind of hockey question and as you’d expect many of them are about the game itself. How do you take a slapshot? Can you show me how to do the Crosby 360 (hey, a couple of the kids picked it up)? Where should I be on the ice? How do you do a proper line change?
But check this out. At one of our video sessions, a 6’5 lanky 17 year old defenceman named Gil tapped me on the shoulder after finding out what I do for a living and asked “How’s Ollie Jokinen doing?” Crosby? Ovechkin? Nope. Ollie Jokinen. I asked him why Jokinen, and he said the first time he went to a hockey game was with his parents on a trip to Florida and Jokinen had a huge night. He’s been his favourite player ever since.
Maybe Gary Bettman’s southern expansion is a success after all.
I’ll be back on August 14th with more stories and pictures of the camp.
Kids from Jenin meet Jewish, Arab-Israeli children for week of summer camp and tough questions
In the spirit of the recently concluded Soccer World Cup, 80 Palestinian, Arab-Israeli, and Jewish children graduated from a summer camp recently in which they learned coexistence through the popular sport.
The camp was part of a year-long program called Barkai-Jenin, held by the Maccabim Association. The children in the program, 40 of whom reside in Jenin and 40 of whom reside in Kibbutz Barkai, meet once every two months to share conversations and games. In honor of the World Cup a week-long soccer camp was held.
As part of the program, many of the Jenin children visited the seashore for the first time in their lives, when counselors took them to a Caesarea beach. While attending the camp they slept at the Jewish children’s homes – another first.
Haytam Ayish, who runs the Modern Language Center of Jenin, recounted some of their experiences. “One of the children, who was a guest at his Jewish friend’s house, slept in his sister’s room, a soldier who remained at the base for the weekend,” he said.
“When she called home to wish her family Shabbat Shalom, it was a little strange for her to hear that while she was in Gaza, a boy from Jenin was sleeping in her bed.”
Ibrahim Abu-Mokh, who serves as a camp counselor, said the children had to struggle at first to find a common language. “Soccer is a universal language,” he said. “At first they spoke in signs, or one would score a goal and another would call his name and say, ‘Kifak’. That’s how friendships started.”
As time went on, the children learned to accept each other, he said, recounting a story about a Jewish boy who thought at first that one of the Palestinian children had an explosive device under his shirt. On another occasion, a Palestinian boy wanted his Jewish friends to promise none of them would join the IDF and shoot him.
Eventually the children learned how to deal with their fears, and became friends, the counselors say. Now they keep in touch through e-mails and Facebook.
Ori Winitzer, who founded the Soccer for Peace organization that funds the camp, says it prompted the idea for a year-long program. Winitzer, a New Yorker whose family left Israel when he was a young child, says he had become frustrated by the situation in the country.
“I wanted to do something optimistic and hopeful,” he says. “We chose children because they haven’t yet undergone a process of incitement, and still retain mental flexibility. Soccer contains more than language, or an allegory for peace. Soccer is the way these children actually make peace – peace that overflows from the field into their personal lives.”
On one of the sunny camp days, the children watched a documentary on the life of peace activist Ismail Khatib. His son, 12-year old Ahmed, was killed by IDF troops who thought he was a terrorist because he was playing with a toy gun.
Khatib decided to donate his son’s organs to six Israeli children. “As a man who lost his son, I know that the only way to protect our children is to make peace,” he said.
We need to walk hand in hand, Jews, Muslims, Bedouin, and Christians, to do something for life, for the children, and to stay away from war and destruction.”