You won’t find many hockey conversations that include the nation of Israel. The country is better known as a Jewish and Democratic state of nearly 8.2 million people. Israel is known as the “land of milk and honey, indicative of the Promised Land’s fertility.
The sport of hockey, however, has found a niche in this West Asian nation situated at the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea. In fact, the Israeli National Hockey Team won gold at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Division II Group B World Championships in Hungary, thereby earning promotion to Division IIA.
Israel’s brightest moment in terms of national team strength occurred in 2005 and 2006, when the squad reached Division I of the IIHF just below nations such as Canada, the USA and Russia. The team relied heavily on dual passport holding Canadians and Russian Jewish who had immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Those players are mostly gone now, or are in the twilights of their careers.
The national team’s coach for the past decade, Jean Perron, was behind the bench for the 1986 Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup championship.
The Israeli National Team that will take on several Dallas Stars alumni, including goalie Marty Turco and forward Brent Severyn and Bob Bassen on September 12 at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas (suburban Dallas) with an 8:30 p.m. (CDT) puck drop.
“We are very excited for the opportunity to participate in a charity game with Team Israel,” said Bassen, the Stars Director of Alumni. “While the Alumni Association is dedicated to helping support hockey programs in Texas, we jumped at the (opportunity) of taking on an international team and helping to grow awareness for the game of hockey in Israel.”
Team Israel will feature several of the nation’s elite players, including forward and career scoring leader Sergei Frenkel, forward Daniel Mazour (the country’s fourth-highest career points producer), former Fort Worth Brahmas defenseman Daniel Spivak, and goalie Yevgeni Gusin. Seveal members of the Israeli team previously played a benefit game against MIT in March 2014.
Gusin will split time between the pipes with Marc Brunengraber, who is passionate about hockey in Israel. A native New Yorker and an early-40’s private practice attorney who is Jewish by faith, Brunengraber played club high school hockey in West Islip, New York and at Binghampton (NY) University.
“Israel is very important to me,” said Brunengraber, who almost moved to Israel to play before starting his law career. “It’s nice to be able to portray Israel and the Jewish people in a positive light, away from the ever-constant Middle East conflict, through the game that I love. I am always glad to promote Israeli hockey and help show a side of Israel – and Israelis – through sport that is ignored by mainstream media in both North America and Europe.”
Hockey participation in Israel continues to grow, with an an increase of more than 700 participants over the last three years that brought the number of registered hockey players to about 1,500. The Ice Hockey Federation, which gained admittance to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHG) in 1991, competes at three levels of competition with teams in the Under-18 and Under-20 divisions, as well as the Men’s National Team in the Senior division.
Hockey is well known to Russian descendants who comprise more than a million people in Israel. But many people in the nation remain unaware of the sport. According to Brunengraber, hockey does maintain a strong presence in the far north. “This is because Israel’s only full size rink is located in Metula,” he said. “(The rink) is Israel’s only one of regulation size, is called ‘The Canada Centre’ and was financed by a group of Canadian Jews as a gift to the people of Israel.”
The rink, which contains other sports facilities, hosts the Israeli A-league, B-league, junior leagues, & recreational hockey. It has also been the site of Maccabiah hockey in 1997 and 2013, and the two World Jewish Cups of hockey in 2007 and 2009.”