With hockey fans across North America in despair over the NHL lockout, the winter sport is set to return to an unlikely warm-weather country—Israel.
For the first time in 16 years, ice hockey will make an appearance at the 19th Maccabiah Games scheduled to begin in Israel in July 2013. All the hockey games will be played at the Canada Center in Metula, home to the largest ice rink in Israel. Teams from Canada, the U.S., France and Israel are expected to compete.
As with most international hockey events, Team Canada is the likely favorite. Leading the Canadian squad to Israel will be NHL coaching legend Mike Keenan, who led the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994.
Keenan, whose former wife is Jewish and daughter is being raised Jewish, will coach a Canadian team that includes several NHL draft picks and top college players.
“To have seven NHL drafted and affiliated players, along with so many talented players from NCAA D-1 and Major Junior, we believe we have an excellent chance at bringing home the Gold next summer,” said Team Canada’s General Manager Alex Vohanski in Ynet.
Team USA is also expected to be competitive. It held their tryouts last August.
Driven by Israel’s large Russian community and Canadian Jewish philanthropy, ice hockey’s popularity has grown significantly since it was first introduced to the Maccabiah Games in 1997. New rinks are being constructed in Eilat and Netanya.
More than 9,000 athletes participate in the Maccabiah Games, known as the “Jewish Olympics,” every four years in Israel.