METULLA – Canadian hockey icons Darryl Sittler and Paul Henderson wrapped up a successful international ice hockey tournament with a very traditional Canadian past time – they drank beer and watched a live NHL hockey game at a Tel Aviv pub.
The two former all-stars were the special guests at the fourth annual Israel Recreational Hockey Association international tournament held on the Olympic ice rink at the Canada Centre in Metulla. The three-day tournament featured two teams from Canada, one from the USA and three Israeli teams composed of both olim and sabras.
The tournament honored the late Roger Nielson, the top NHL coach who mentored Sittler and who ran hockey camps in Metulla for many years. Israeli hockey fans got to meet two of the greatest names in Canadian hockey. Henderson scored the winning goal in the famous 1972 Canada-USSR series, while Sittler notched the winner in the 1976 Canada Cup.
After officiating at the tournament and touring the country, the two hockey giants said the trip was well worth it and they’d recommend others to come see the Holy Land for themselves.
“I was absolutely blown away. “It was so educational and very emotional too,” said Henderson.
Sittler said he and and his wife Luba overcame initial jitters and said visiting Israel was worth the trip.
“If you’ve got an opporutnity you have to go . You’re gonna love it.”
Israel got a positive boost when Canada’s CBC TV network featured the visit on the national news and interviewed the stars live at the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv. Although they haven’t played for three decades, the two are still big news in Canada, especially if they are at a hockey tournament in Israel.
“I think the tournament’s been a fabulous success,” said Canada’s ambassador Jon Allen, who dropped the puck for the official opening, adding it was a personal thrill to meet the two superstars as well as visiting players and veteran olim from his home town of Winnipeg.
IRHA president and tournament organizer Danny Spodek said he was sure that Sittler and Henderson would become ambassadors of goodwill for Israel.
“Hockey is simply a great way to promote relations between Canada and Israel,” Spodek said.