Reigning ice hockey national champions Hapoel Amos Lod are getting ready to represent Israel in the first round of the International Ice Hockey Federation Continental Cup playoffs, which will be held September 23-25 in Ankara, Turkey.
Israel's group includes host Policacademia Ankara, along with Chaka of Spain and Levsky Spartak of Sofia, Bulgaria. A second group of national league champions will compete at a similar tournament in Bucharest, Romania.
The first round is a round robin, with each team facing the others once and the group winner advancing to the next round, where it will faces even stronger opponents, according to the IIHF seedings.
The third round is the penultimate round, leading to the Final Four playoff for the Continental Cup Championship, which is scheduled for the beginning of 2006.
In 2004, Lod then playing as Maccabi Lod was also the reigning national champ, but decided not to participate in the first round of playoffs, which were held on the High Holy Days.
Until now, no Israeli club team has managed to get past the opening round. In 2003 and 2002, Ma'alot was the league champion, and each of their games ended in a rout.
Player/coach Alex Golubovich was realistic about Israel's chances to advance. "The teams we will be playing against are far more professional [than Israel's players] ... and practice an average of 3-4 times a week," he told The Jerusalem Post Friday at the only full team practice since the regular season ended in April.
"In our case, we are more of a recreational league, and the distances we have to travel prevent us from training on a regular basis. We get to play once every two weeks during the regular season. All I can say is, that we will do our very best."
Sergei Matin, the president of the Israel Ice Hockey Federation, is familiar with the Turkish team, having assumed the coaching duties for its 2003 Continental Cup campaign. "They have quite a strong team, and their team is bolstered by professional players... as are all of the teams in their league," he said.
Each team is allowed to add a limited number of players from other league squads for the competition. Haifa's Artium Korotin and goalie Boris Amromin, who are members of the national team, have joined Lod for the playoffs.