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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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Stars of David shine in multicultural hockey tournament

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The Israeli Stars of David celebrate their tournament victory in traditional style.

Is it too early to start talking about a dynasty? With three championships in four years, aren’t they beginning to resemble the Oilers?

Somebody break up the Israeli Stars of David – they’re too good!

OK, time to take a breath and climb back down to earth. The Stars of David are champions again, back-to-back winners of the premier division in the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championship, a tournament that brings together hockey-loving players from the Toronto area.

This is becoming a tournament the Davids dominate, going undefeated in consecutive years and proving just how out of date that old joke is about the wafer-thin book of Jewish sports heroes. When it comes to hockey in Canada, Jewish guys can play. They’ve proved it time and again and their head coach, manager and overall hockey maven, Alex Voihanski, believes they would have won it in 2009 as well if not for a raft of injuries that left them with only 10 skaters.

This past holiday season, the Stars of David were a perfect 7-0 in round-robin and playoff competition – despite another raft of injuries. They defeated the Irish Shamrocks 3-2 in the final in what was a rematch of last year’s championship game.

It was satisfying beating the Shamrocks, who tend to play a chippy brand of hockey, but who have failed to intimidate the Davids the past two championships. The Stars outshot the Shamrocks by a two-to-one margin, but the Shamrocks’ goalie, who played in the American Hockey League and for the St. Louis Blues for a couple of games, “was fantastic,” Voihanski said.

Voihanski, who runs JCC Chai Sports and is general manager of hockey operations for International Scouting Services, was certainly being diplomatic. The Stars of David have been pushed in recent tournaments, but they have yet to lose a game in two years.

There are a number of reasons for that, he explained: “We have very good players. There is an enormous amount of Jewish talent. There are so many quality Jewish hockey players.”

This year’s squad showcased a handful of them. Noah Schwartz, for one, plays for the London Nationals in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, where he’s team leader in scoring. One game into the tournament, he was called up by the OHL London Knights, where he registered one assist and was plus one in three games.

Stacey Britstone, a veteran of the OHL Plymouth Whalers and Oshawa Generals, who captained last year’s gold-medal team, was expected to fill the same role this year. Unfortunately, he broke his leg the day before the tournament began and couldn’t play. “He’s a former MVP, captain and a guy who does everything we ask,” Voihanski said.

Aaron Stein, perhaps the top defenceman on the team, broke his foot blocking a shot and was unavailable in the last two playoff games. Jesse Schwartz was called to play by his prep school after the round robin and also didn’t skate in the playoffs. A third Schwartz brother, Brad, rounded out the family contingent, but they were matched by the three Weinberg brothers, Jordan, Adam and Bryan. All three play or have played in junior and college hockey. Bryan plays for York University and “arguably was the best player in the tournament,” Voihanski said.

Another brother act featured Jason and Mike Pain. Jason played for a variety of minor pro teams. Mike played for the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit and, more recently, York University. He led the Davids in scoring with two goals and six assists.

Then there was Daniel Leavens, a right-winger who scored four goals and two assists. Leavens plays for Newmarket Hurricanes in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League, was a member of Canada East in the World Junior A Challenge and is likely to earn a scholarship to an NCAA school, Voihanski said.

Other notables on the team included Alon Eizenman, who has played professional hockey in France as well as for the Israeli national team; Ran Oz, a 230-pound defenceman who also suited up for Israel and who made sure no one intimidated the Stars, and Sergei Frankel, yet another Israeli national veteran.

The team was backstopped by Kevin Kliman, who played for Brown University in the NCAA and Sal Cutillo, who was named tournament MVP.

Adam Weinberg, who played in his fifth tournament for the Stars, said the team has always featured “a good mix of players.” This year they iced two scoring lines and had a smallish defence that was good at moving the puck. The team also had a blend of youth and veterans.

“We’re always the best team with our speed. Nobody can keep up with our speed,” Weinberg said.

The team played seven games in four days, Voihanski said, so “you try to roll three lines and keep your guys as fresh as possible.

“The key to our game is our cycling.” A lot of the other teams don’t want to play behind their own net. They get tired chasing the Stars, and when they do get the puck, they’re so exhausted they can’t do much with it, he said.

There are equally talented teams in the tournament, Voihanski said, but they don’t come together as well as the Stars of David. The team, he continued, mirrors the larger Jewish community in being cohesive and tight knit.  “The commitment is pretty good. I think that’s what puts us over the top,” he said.

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