Israel has only one hockey rink that complies with international regulations. Ice Hockey is barely known in Israel. Yet, last week the Israeli national hockey team did the unbelievable: Israel won the gold medal in an intense international world championship tournament.
The Israeli team won all of its games in the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) Championship for Division 2, Group B in Mexico. The team went undefeated with wins over New Zealand (5:3), Iceland (6:3), North Korea (9:3), Georgia (7:3) and Mexico in a close game that was won in overtime (5:4). The Israeli team will move up to Division 2, Group A at next year tournament.
The games’ broadcaster described the Israeli team the best. He said that Israel won the championship with its heart. The players gave everything they had in every game. They played their best when they were behind and fought to get back in the game.
Ice hockey is a demanding sport: It is physical, it is fast, and it is long. The majority of the Israeli National Hockey Team players are amatures. They are not used to play so many games in such a short period of time. A full week of intense competition stretched them to their limit but the drive to win, to be the best, kept them coming back from behind to win game after game.
The team is not funded by the State of Israel. The players pay themselves for their equipment. They do that because they love to play hockey, because they are competitors and want to play with the best, and because they are proud to represent the State of Israel.
The Israeli national team coach, Robert Holik, is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the New Jersey Devils (1995, 2000) and had 18 seasons in the NHL. He played for Czechoslovakia’s national team. He won bronze medal at the 1990 World Championship and two World Juniors championships. This is his first year as the coach of the Israeli national team.
In an interview to IHHF.com, Holik who is not Jewish, explained his motivation to coach the Israeli team. “I’m a big supporter of Israel. There are reasons for that – I’m coming from a small country and always there was a bigger empire controlling us. Israel has found a way to defend itself and to stay free and democratic. And I admire that. When you study the history of the Jewish people, it’s quite a journey. What brought me to Israel actually, was not exactly hockey, but everything else, the people, the history, the current situation.”
Early on in the tournament it became clear that the Israeli team was there to win. Their first two games were against Iceland and New Zealand, the two teams that were considered the favorites to win the championship. When the Israeli team passed these hurdles successfully, it seemed that from that point on the rest of the games will be easier. No one expected North Korea to lead 3:1 at the end of the first period, or that Mexico, that lost all the games up to that point, will fight so hard and bring the game to an overtime, but it was their home turf and they played for honor in front of their home crowed. The Mexico-Israel game is considered the best game of the tournament. For Israeli fans who watched the game live on Youtube it was a painful moment when Mexico scored in the last period to even the score 4:4. Since Hockey overtime games end in a sudden death when one team scores, the suspense lasted the entire game until Israel scored in overtime and ended the game with a win. The Mexican team certainly gained the respect of everyone who watched the game. Form this point of view, both teams won.
Israel needed to win its last game against Georgia to win the championship. Georgia scored first and it seemed that Israel will have a tough time as they had the night before against Mexico, but then the Israeli players took control of the game and scored repeatedly to ensure the victory.
Eli Klein, the MVP of the Israel-Mexico game.
Israeli player attempts to score against three Mexican defenders.
The Israel team celebrating the victory
🇮🇱🇮🇱THE ISRAEL NATIONAL TEAM🇮🇱🇮🇱🇮🇱 This says it all🥇🥇🥇
Posted by Israel Hockey Foundation on Saturday, April 27, 2019