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From left to right: Bob Wener, Paul Henderson, Canadian Ambassador to Israel Jon Allen , Darryl Sittler, Joe Bazes. Photo by Nim Gluckman.

 
Former Winnipeggers Play with Hockey Legends Sittler and Henderson in Israel

By Paul Shindman

Metulla - Israel is known as a land of opportunity for Jews, but few of us ever imagined that we'd bump into Canadian hockey legends Paul Henderson and Darryl Sittler here - and at a hockey tournament.

Two teams from Canada were among the six teams at the fourth annual Israel Recreational Hockey Association's invitational tournament held in January that honored the late, great NHL coach Roger Nielson. Guests of this magnitude brought out Canadians, including Winnipeggers, from all over Israel to the Olympic rink at the Canada Centre in Metulla, on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

"It is great to see people from all over Canada including guys from Winnipeg who I haven't seen in years," said Canada's Ambassador to Israel and former Winnipegger Jon Allen.

Like other Canadians who were around in 1972, Allen was thrilled to be in the presence of Henderson, who scored the famous winning goals in the final three games against the Soviet Union.

"I have never met stars of the quality of Darryl Sittler and Paul Henderson," said Allen. "I think the whole tournament's been a fabulous success."

The Canadian team with players from Ottawa and Winnipeg came out gold medal winners, defeating one of the three Israeli teams in the tournament. Henderson and Sittler were on hand to give out the medals, and were feted at a banquet later that evening at nearby Kfar Giladi, a kibbutz in northern Israel where most of the players were staying.

"Playing hockey here in Israel and meeting guys from Winnipeg on the ice is nothing less than incredible," said Michael Blumberg – a former Winnipegger and original member of Israel's national hockey team who made aliya in 1975.
Former Winnipegger Michael Blumberg
Former Winnipegger Michael Blumberg.
Photo by Nick Gluckman.


"Playing in a tournament here in Israel, at my age, where Paul Henderson and Daryl Sittler were honorary guests was like being a kid again."

The annual tournament brings together recreational non-contact hockey players of all ages. This year's tournament even had a father-mother-son line of Barry, Debby and Noah Goldman playing on the Toronto team. The youngest player was 14 while the oldest was David Cowan, 70, who originally hailed from Thunder Bay but now lives in the States.

Other former Winnipeggers in attendance were Irv Hoch, who now makes his home in Seattle, and Yaakov (Jack) Frolich, who lives in Israel. They came to the final fundraising event at the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv where Sittler and Henderson were interviewed by Hockey Night in Canada.

Blumberg's son Itai carried the Israeli flag at the opening ceremonies, and returning to the blue line was nothing compared to meeting the hockey icons.

Rod Black and Liam Horowitz
TSN broadcaster Rod Black takes the
puck from Israel's Liam Horowitz. Photo
by Nick Gluckman.
"Henderson and Sittler were both larger than life for me when I was I kid and they still are today. I saw Henderson play in the '72 series. My dad took me to the game in Winnipeg and that was the best hockey I ever saw in my life. I was inspired by them then and I am no less in awe of them today."

Michael Blumberg "bumped" into fellow Winnipegger Bobby Wener  who played on the winning team. The two last saw each other three decades ago when he was nineteen.

"I skated rings around him till he was dizzy. Actually Bobby is a great hockey player. We both played junior hockey in Winnipeg. However, I believe in this tournament Bobby skated rings around me," Blumberg said.


"Israel is a land of wonders where even Daryl Sittler and Paul Henderson show up at your game," Blumberg concluded.

Tournament organizer Danny Spodek was thrilled that his boyhood hero, Sittler, accepted the invitation to attend. When former teammate Lanny Macdonald couldn't come due to a scheduling conflict, Sittler turned to Henderson, who jumped at the opportunity. Spodek said there were already plans for next year's tournament including special guests, but wouldn't reveal yet how the IRHA could outdo Henderson and Sittler.

After officiating at the tournament and touring the country, the two hockey giants said the trip was well worth it and they'd recommend that others come see the Holy Land for themselves.

"I was absolutely blown away. It was so educational and very emotional too," said Henderson, who admitted he'd always wanted to visit Israel but never made the time until now.

Sittler said he and his wife Luba overcame initial jitters and that visiting Israel was worth the trip.

"If you've got an opportunity you have to go. You're gonna love it," the former Leaf captain said.

For more information on recreational hockey in Israel see www.israelhockeyassociation.org, and stay tuned for details about next year's tournament.
Danny Spodek, Darryl Sittler and Paul Henderson
IRHA President Danny Spodek (left)
works with Sittler and Henderson
making sandwiches for needy
children in Israel's north.

 
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