Hockey Night in… Israel!

Tournament co-chair Danny Spodek. On the right, of course! (from the IRHA website)

I realize there might be a bit of a seeming discrepancy on this blog. It is called Fun Joel’s Israel, and I talk in my bio about the fun side of Israel. And while I think that hasn’t been lacking entirely on the blog, I also don’t think I’ve done my full duty yet in bringing some of the less obvious “fun” stuff to the forefront!

This post will be a start at rectifying that situation.

I love hockey. It is one of my favorite sports, even when the Rangers are not having such a great season (which is, unfortunately, rather often). It is not uncommon for me to stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning just to watch (or even listen to) a hockey game from the States. (Israel is 7 hours ahead of the East Coast and 10 ahead of the West.) And I’m not just talking about playoff games. Just regular season games when I can afford to sleep less one night.

I’d actually heard that there was a small hockey league here in Israel, but I didn’t know that much about it. I already knew about various levels of leagues here for the other three major North American sports: American football, baseball and of course basketball. Basketball is the only one with a truly professional-level league here. Baseball is low-level semi-pro (and I’m not sure if they ever made it past season one). And football is mainly adult recreational level, though they play in real stadiums, etc. Still, where was the hockey?

Then, about a month ago, I went to Ben Gurion Airport to greet some friends who were arriving on a flight of new olim / immigrants. I was happy to run into an old friend with whom I’d lost contact, though I knew he was around, living in Israel these days.

My friend Danny Spodek, and a number of other guys, were standing around in blue and white hockey jerseys, grasping hockey sticks and looking very… well, Canadian. They were all members of the Israel Recreational Hockey Association and were there to greet their newest member who was arriving on the same flight.

IRHA members at Ben Gurion Airport, waiting to greet a new immigrant player.

As it turns out, Danny is a member of the association, and also is co-chair of their annual International Ice Hockey Tournament. He told me a bit about the organization, and I checked out the website. The tournament takes place this week, and there should be some fun events for hockey fans who are visiting or who live here.

This is very clearly an adult recreational tournament, with most players over 35, and no checking. So yeah, I’m not saying that this will be even close to the level of an NHL or European league game. But should still be a nice time for those who are craving a little hockey in Israel.

The tournament takes place (as do league games) at the Canada Centre in Metula, one of the northernmost towns in Israel. Which I guess is appropriate for a sport that sprung from the “Great White North.” It runs from Tuesday, January 26 through Thursday, January 28, 2010. Games are 7-10:30 AM and 5-8:30 PM, except for the finals on Thursday which start at 6:00 PM. And best of all, the games are free to attend!

As an added benefit, there is a public skate session on Thursday from 4:30 to 5:30 PM. Cost for the session is 30 NIS, and includes skate rentals. And for just 100 NIS, there is a bus from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh to the final game, including the skate session and rental. For more information on the bus, contact Avi Taub.

Finally, to give the festivities a bit more of a glitzy, pro feel, the tournament has two special guests of honor, former NHLers Darryl Sittler and Paul Henderson. Sittler still holds the record for most points in an NHL game (10 – 6 goals and 4 assists vs. the Boston Bruins in February 7, 1976), and Henderson is best known for scoring the “Goal of the Century” that helped Canada defeat the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series.

I’m definitely considering making the trip up north this Thursday. Let me know if you want to join me for Hockey Night in Israel!

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