Canucks alum Eddie Hatoum, originally from Lebanon, with several Arab Israeli athletes. (photo from Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver)
Anyone who caught a glimpse of the 20 young hockey players during their week-long training camp in Vancouver March 4-10 probably didn’t think much of it. That is until they looked a little closer and saw the Canada Israel Hockey School (CIHS) logo all over their jerseys, jackets and bags.
In a joint venture of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the 10-to-14-year-old boys and girls were hosted by local families, trained by special guest coaches, toured around the city and treated to an unforgettable night by the Vancouver Canucks.
Aside from its being a hockey school in a country where that sport is as foreign as olive trees are to Vancouver, CIHS is also special for using hockey as a cultural bridge: half the participants touring Vancouver were Jewish and half Arab. Here are a few stories that stood out from the week-long adventure.
Skate like NHLers: After arriving late the night before, the kids wasted no time hitting the ice at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Their first practice was led by Barb Adelbaum, power skating consultant for the Vancouver Canucks and various NHL players around the league. After taking them through some skating drills, Adelbaum noted that many of them had dull skate blades. She connected the team with Cyclone Taylor Sports in Vancouver and arranged to have all 20 pairs of skates sharpened, as well as a much-needed new stick for one of the goalies.
KDHS meets CIHS: On day two, thanks to a Purim-themed professional development day at King David High School, several hockey-playing students from the high school joined the CIHS kids on the ice. Instead of playing against each other, each team was formed from members of both schools, which made for a spirited community game.
Flying like a Raven: When the JCC found out that the CIHS squad included two girls, talks began with the Richmond Ravens Girls Hockey Association on bringing them all together. The Ravens happily obliged, donating one of their ice times to a scrimmage and practice with the Israelis. After fitting the two Israeli girls into Ravens jerseys, a boys versus girls game was played.
All they have is love: Sunday afternoon was spent touring the city. The group walked along the water from Granville Island to Kitsilano Beach. As they approached the beach, Virgin Radio was there, with a large balloon-like ball with “LOVE” written on it, offering folks the chance to be photographed with it. As the Israeli kids swarmed for their photo, the radio station reps were told of the special meaning behind the Jewish and Arab group, standing shoulder to shoulder, symbolizing the love of a game and being a team overcoming other boundaries.
CIHS meet JCC hockey: The Israeli athletes had the opportunity to see what Jewish community hockey was all about in Vancouver. They took in one of the final regular season games of the JCC’s Adult Ice Hockey League, providing a cheering section the local weekend warriors weren’t used to. After the game, the students had their chance to show the JCC league the skills they had brought from Israel, and to play a little hockey with them. Led by the generosity of Daniel and Ariel Wosk, several members of the JCC league donated money for new equipment for the CIHS players (more to come on that below). The Wosk brothers had visited CIHS in February 2014 as part of a hockey team tour and wanted to be involved when the Israelis came to Vancouver.
“The joy and passion that [Jewish] and Arab children were exhibiting together was a sign that with the right influences and opportunities there could be a better future there,” said Ariel. “When we heard that some of the kids were coming to Vancouver, we knew that we wanted to do something for them.”
“A highlight for me was not knowing who was who on the ice, yet their teamwork was excellent,” added Daniel of his time playing with the kids here. “It’s awesome to see their relationships grow in a positive direction … [that] will translate into their daily lives.”
The final day: The last full day of the CIHS visit had more highlights than an evening news report.
The morning started on the ice, with two members of the Vancouver Canucks Alumni Association as guest coaches, along with local hockey pro and JCC member Harrison May and his brother Kevin.
One of the alum, Eddie Hatoum, was born in Beirut and still speaks Arabic at home. Upon arriving and learning of the mix of the CIHS athletes, he entered the locker room and asked, “Who speaks Arabic?” in his native tongue. Half the room raised their hands with huge smiles on their faces. “We’ve done a lot of work with young groups as the Canucks alumni, but this really warms my heart,” Hatoum said, also smiling. “When I tell my siblings in Ottawa that I got on the ice with these kids, they won’t believe it.”
Hatoum was joined at the practice by B.J. (Blair) McDonald, who once scored 46 goals playing with Wayne Gretzky in the early 1980s.
After the practice, the group headed to Sports Exchange in Vancouver for a shopping spree. With the money from the JCC hockey league players in hand, along with several donations and great deals from the store managers, the team packed six bags’ worth of brand-new gear. The kids also had a chance to pick up some items of their own that they can’t get in Israel.
While it seemed almost impossible for the day to get any better, the CIHS kids and several of their host family friends were treated to an evening with the Canucks that started with a meeting with team president Trevor Linden and chief operating officer Victor de Bonis. De Bonis led the group on a tour of the facility in advance of the Canucks versus Anaheim Ducks game, which they watched from a hospitality suite, where they were offered a buffet dinner and all the popcorn they could eat. Visits to the suite from Adelbaum, McDonald, de Bonis and Canucks mascot Fin topped it all off.
The trip continues: The group said goodbye to Vancouver and hello to a week in Calgary before heading back to Israel. Several JCC league players will meet the kids again next February at an annual recreational hockey tournament in Israel. The Vancouver squad, as usual, will get on the ice with the CIHS for a couple of practices and continue their friendship.
Kyle Berger is Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver sports coordinator, and a freelance writer living in Richmond. For more information on this visit or future hockey trips to Israel, contact Berger at 604-638-7286.