The owners of six NHL teams have stepped to ensure that upcoming Maccabiah ice hockey tournaments will continue as planned.

Given the venue, a small Upper Galilee town close to the Israel-Lebanon border, and the hot, sun-drenched climate of July in the Middle East, Maccabiah ice hockey until a few months ago seemed a wildly unlikely proposition.

Happily, thanks to generous sponsor support to match the players’ enthusiasm, it’s definitely happening and the pucks are set to drop.

Teams from Canada, Russia, Israel, Ukraine and the USA signed up for Open and Junior (aged 16-18) tournaments over July 19-26 in Metulla, which boasts the country’s one-andonly full-sized rink, recently refurbished by the Games Organizing Committee, including equipment imported from Scandinavia.

Six NHL team owners each donated to assist participation: Daryl Katz (Edmonton Oilers); Henry Samueli (Anaheim Ducks); Ed Snider (Philadelphia Flyers); Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs); Cliff Viner (Florida Panthers) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning).

In addition, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Joe Cohen of Los Angeles also contributed to support the tournament.

“Thanks to the support of the NHL owner and Commissioner Gary Bettman, ice hockey joins the Maccabiah Games for the first time as an official sport,” exclaimed Maccabiah CEO Eyal Tiberger.

“We very much look forward to the tournaments and are sure that the participation of both professional and college players will add a lot of interest. We are also grateful to the Israeli regulatory bodies for helping us upgrade the Metula facility to meet international standards.”

NHL star Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars joined Team USA’s coaching staff, and the legendary Mike Keenan, who led the NY Rangers to their historic 1994 Stanley Cup Championship, and coached the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup finals appearances, is coaching Team Canada.

Even with such luminaries involved, no one is predicting the eventual winner. The reason: Ice hockey has only one previous outing in the Maccabiah, as an exhibition sport in 1997, so there’s no recent history.

Still, competition looks to be fierce and high level: the Canadian and US teams have top pro and US College players, and Russia and Ukraine include players from European professional leagues.

Unlike the other four teams formed specifically for the Maccabiah, Israel may have the advantage of being an established unit of players who know each other well and are internationally experienced.

Israel, an International Ice Hockey Federation Division II competitor, is currently No. 39 of 49 national teams in IIHF rankings.

With the tournament drawing near, big fan interest is already a certainty. The sensational summer international ice hockey tournament high up in the hills is the talk of the town all over the Galilee Panhandle.

For more information, including tournament schedules, please visit www.maccabiah.com

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