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(photo credit: Shiri Joshua)
A new breed of ice hockey players emerged in Metulla on Thursday. Not only did they sport Stars of David on their fronts, but also ponytails on their backs.
Israel's national women's ice hockey team held its first practice last week at the Canada Canter, alongside the men's junior national team, for a special skills clinic led by Sean Skinner, an internationally acclaimed stickhandling master who came from Colorado for a week.
Alan Maislin, chairman of the Israel Ice Hockey Federation, has recruited former NHL players Steve Dubinsky and Bill Jaffe to coach the national women's team. Maislin and Sergei Matin, the Israel IHF president, also enlisted Dr. Esther Silver, who has extensive competitive hockey experience in Israel and in Canada, to help direct the program.
Also on the front line is 19-year-old forward Lisa Horowitz, and her father, Wayne Horowitz, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Horowitzes have been instrumental in the local women's league, which was established last year.
Despite the relatively small number of women hockey players in Israel, Skinner thinks that the national women's team can succeed. "It's not about the number of players, it's about the quality of training," he said. "Russia, for example, has the least number of hockey players, but has the world's strongest program."
With its first practice out of the way, the women's team plans to make its debut at a tournament to be held at the Canada Center from January 24-26, and make its first International Ice Hockey Federation appearance in 2007. The national women's team is in Division IV of the IIHF, alongside Iceland, New Zealand, and Romania.
Dr. Silver hopes the team will provide a boost for the local women's ice hockey program in the short term, by developing female coaches, trainers, on-ice officials and team managers, and down the road.
"Within two years we hope to participate in the IIHF World Championships," she said. "Our long term goal is to develop our Olympic team to represent Israel at the 2010 Winter Olympics."
Lisa Horowitz, who began as Israel's first female ice hockey player and hopes to be one of the women who leads the national team to those Games, sets the goals for practices. Hopefully, "we'll get to know each other's strengths and weaknesses, what positions each of us play, and to work on skating and shooting," she said. "I want to function as a team, and also to help improve each individual player."
The players, coaches and officials hope that the women's ice hockey program will have a positive impact on Israeli women participating in sports and point out that women's ice hockey is different than the men's version.
It is "a totally different game - it is a game of finesse and not brute strength," explained Dr. Silver. "I believe we will be paving the way for female athletes to get involved in a sport that can showcase the unique aspects that women bring to [hockey], as well as promoting Israel and sports development in Israel... [and] that women play a major role in Israeli sports programs and also on the international stage."
While the national women's ice hockey team is currently based at the Canada Center in Metulla, along with all of the Israel IHF programs, there are plans to build a new ice rink in the Tel Aviv area.
The organization hopes to move its activities to the proposed facility, where it will be better located to offer ice hockey to a larger population of children and adults, which has increasingly taken up roller hockey. Skinner said that he believes these players can easily transfer their skills from the cement to the ice.
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