Games we play: National junior ice hockey team shooting for gold

The national under-18 ice hockey team faces Turkey in its opening match up of the International Ice Hockey Federation Division III World Championships on Monday. Bulgaria, New Zealand, Romania, and South Africa are also competing at the March 13-19 championships at Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, after the IIHF decided to move them from Metulla. The top two teams will be promoted to Division II. "We're shooting for the gold," said head coach Jean Perron, a Stanley Cup-winning coach who is leading the team for the second year, from Bucharest. The team held a three-day training camp before leaving for Miercurea Ciuc. "The team is in much better shape than last year, with more depth, and we have three full lines to count on and five defensemen, compared with last year when we could only really count on two lines and two of the defensemen. Eden Nemenoff will be in goal, and he's playing much better than last year; he's stronger and quicker, and it'll be a big challenge for him. "Romania and [South Africa] came down from Division II last year, and they, together with New Zealand, look to be our toughest competition so far." Oren Zamir, the leading scorer overall at last year's tournament, has benefited from a second year of studies at the highly-regarded Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic college in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, Canada, while George Pisha is completing his first year of studies there. Perron helped both gain acceptance to the hockey academy. The majority of last year's bronze medal-winning team is back, including the second leading scorer last year, Michael Horowitz, along with Yogev Shamir and Eli Sherbatov. In addition to Perron and the day-to-day coaches at the Canada Center in Metulla, Boris Mindel and Edouard Ravniaga, Shawn Skinner has joined the coaching team and is on hand to work with the team in his specialty - stick-handling skills. Also in Romania are team general manager Alan Maislin, who is also the chairman of the Israel Ice Hockey federation, and the president of the Israel IHF, Sergei Matin. Matin and Maislin both echoed Perron. "We're going for the gold - that's our goal," they said separately.