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'Hey, k'tana ("tiny")!" is what the boys holler as they slam 157-cm Lisa Horowitz into the sideboards of the ice rink. She doesn't care and even likes it when she comes off the ice with minor injuries because that way, she knows the boys have treated her like an equal.
"I know it was a good practice if I ache," says Horowitz, 20, who until recently had no choice but to play with the boys.
February of this year was different. It marked the first month of practice when, for the first time in her eight years of playing hockey in Israel, Horowitz could play with the girls.
The team of young women hopefuls aged 12 to 18 is looking to take Holy Land hockey to the next level - they are aiming for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in 2007 and the Winter Olympics in 2010.
They may kit up in the dingy girls' dressing room under the stairs and can barely skate, yet Horowitz's optimism about making the team work is unflinching. Much of the behind-the-scenes support comes by way of Canada and the US, through veteran women hockey players Esther Silver and Page Salenger, both MDs who plan to move to Israel by next year to coach and manage the team.
The fact that his sister plays hockey is not really a big deal says Michael Horowitz, 17, captain on a junior league team, "because we go to a school [the Emek Hahula high school in Kfar Blum] that supports athletes in basketball and swimming. True, there aren't a lot of hockey players," he reflects.
Sometimes he plays against his sister. He says it is not fair to compare girls with boys when one considers the size and speed difference. "She's smart and sees the play very well. She is also a very good skater and stick handler," he notes, while also giving his sister credit for moving the entire family close to the rink in Metulla. "Lisa was the pioneer who moved to the north to make it happen."
The Horowitz family used to live in Kfar Adumim near the Dead Sea until Lisa, the eldest child, decided at age 15 to make ice hockey a priority. She would need to live close to the only professional ice hockey rink in the country at the Canada Center in Metulla, and made the move on her own.
Her hockey-loving younger brothers also decided that the sport would be more than a mere pastime, and a year-and-a-half ago the boys, their professor father and teacher mother followed.
"I yell at Michael be'rabak when he is playing," says Lisa, who explains it as an army term meant to infuse a person with energy. "My brother was born talented, but he's passive on the ice. When I pump him up, he's 10 times better."
Michael Horowitz has been recruiting friends to play on his sister's team. Nofar Melina, 18, was interested in giving it a go. She has had only four practices with the team and isn't quite sure if she has set her sights on the Olympics.
"I'm just trying hockey," admits the high schooler, who will soon be inducted into the IDF. For her, team captain Horowitz "is cute and funny and understands us," she says. Melina likes everything about hockey, even falling on the ice.
The girls played for free during the last month of February, and Horowitz is curious to see what will happen once they will have to cover the expense of ice time and extras, about NIS 340 per month. Future stars or not, she thinks the high cost will discourage some of the girls from continuing.
Besides teaching girls how to use men's skates, Horowitz says she is mostly training the girls' heads for hockey.
"I give them a puck and yell, 'Pass!' and then tell them to pick up their heads," she explains. "I'm giving them a taste of thinking hockey."
Ice Hockey and Horowitz go hand in hand. Her Montreal-native mother and Long Island-born father helped instill in her the love of ice and competition. Summer trips to Long Island visiting grandparents also helped her appreciate hockey: She could skate on rinks in the summer and took on rooting for the New York Islanders hockey team.
A typical day for Horowitz starts early. At 6 am she wakes, eats a bowl of Cornflakes and heads off to Kibbutz Amir, where she is doing her National Service, working with teens who cannot study in the typical school framework. At least twice a week, she takes them to the gym and helps them maintain an animal farm.
Lunch is served at the kibbutz dining hall. By 2:30 p.m. she is at home taking a nap before practice. Early evening practice starts with the women's team.
"I love coffee and drink it before a practice to get the jolt." She then starts coaching sessions alongside Boris Mindel, who coaches all the ice hockey in Israel, she says. Following the women's practice, she practices one more hour with a boys' junior level team.
Typically, she plays left wing or center and considers her greatest strength to be her fearlessness. Her energy levels peak at the end of the game.
About one day in three weeks, she gets to play against other teams.
Beyond the rigor of playing and practicing on the ice, she makes sure to head south at least once a week, where she is active in floor hockey games happening around Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion and Ra'anana. The games start around 8 pm and the four-hour bus journey back home is often via the midnight bus to Kiryat Shmona.
"I don't get tired," she says. "I'm addicted to the adrenaline."
With her busy week, it's no surprise that Horowitz does not have a boyfriend. "No, the boys are not afraid of me," she says. Although she would like to, she refrains from dating hockey boys. "I'd love to date a hockey guy. I love 90 percent of them. They are all friends. I think if I started dating them, they wouldn't respect me. They wouldn't pass me the puck because I'm in the right place but would pass it to flirt." She prefers at this stage in her life to keep the game "fun and friendly, not fun and flirty."
Next year, she is hoping to get a scholarship to travel and play in China, Canada or the US.
"I'll go basically anywhere as long as I can play hockey."
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