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Friday, December 24, 2010

Israeli hockey teens treated to special ice

An Israeli teenage hockey team enjoyed a special holiday treat after arriving in Windsor, Ont., for a bantam-midget tournament.

The team hit the ice in the city's main arena, home to the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires.

The Israelis travelled to play in Riverside Minor Hockey's annual Christmas tournament, held this year at the Windsor Family Credit Union community arena.

The tournament, in its 51st year, always hosts international teams from Europe, but having Israel take part is a first.

It was more than sport that attracted the Israelis to Windsor. Traditionally, foreign teams are billeted with local players' families, making the tournament a cultural exchange as well.

"I think that it's amazing thing that Jewish people, they're staying [with a] Christian family," one Israeli player told CBC News. "This will be my first Christmas."

Impressed by venue

It wasn't just a struggle with English that had some of the players grasping for words when they saw the new Windsor Family Credit Union centre.

"I think it's amazing. It's a great arena," said one player.

"The ice is great. The shots are better," said another.

As a special treat, the Israelis were allowed to practise in the main 5,000-seat rink where the Spitfires play. That honour is usually reserved for tournament finalists.

The Israeli coach said the team hasn't had much practice because their hockey rink in Israel is in the far north and it takes most of the team four hours to get there. The Mideast team is using the Canadian tournament to hone its skills for the world championships.

It was a scramble to find families to billet the team, which signed up to play at the last minute. But organizers reached out mainly to members of the local Jewish community, who opened their homes to the players.

"My son and I have been anticipating this for about a month now," said a Windsor hockey mom. Her nine-year-old son, Jacob, is just as curious about Israeli culture.

"They're telling me a lot about what they do, and how they do stuff when they do Hanukkah," he said.This nine-year-old Windsor hockey player, Jacob, wants to share a game of pond hockey with his new Israeli friends on Boxing Day.

Jacob is thrilled to be able to take his three teenage billets for a game of pond hockey on Boxing Day. "They've never experienced that ever," he said.

The Israeli team's flight is scheduled to depart on the day of the finals. So the players aren't expecting to have a shot at the championship, but they're not giving up hope.

"I think it will be good practice for us, and maybe we'll make it," said one player.