METULA -- At the Maccabiah Games, sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel, many athletes have commented about how quickly they have been able to develop chemistry with their teammates and how it has carried over into competition.
For example, in a juniors ice hockey game against Israel, Team USA’s Ben Heller scored one of his two goals off an odd-man rush where he trailed his teammate, a defenseman, who was taking the puck up ice. At the last second, after the goalie flinched, the defenseman passed the puck behind himself on the right side to a streaking Heller, who stuck it home.
That type of timing is rare for teammates who have played together for only a week. But meaningful and emotional off-ice experiences in their Jewish homeland have helped Team USA develop its on-ice cohesion.
“When we went to the Western Wall, the whole team got together,” said Heller, 16, of Moreland Hills, Ohio. “That’s when we bonded as a team.”
In their 13-2 victory over Israel, Heller and his American teammates looked like a well-oiled machine if there ever was one. But no moment captured the essence of the Maccabiah more than the scene following the post-game handshake, after both squads parted ways to take their team photographs. The Israeli team, clearly dejected, quickly took its picture. But then instead of skating toward the dressing room, an Israeli player skated over to where the Americans were still posing and joined the Team USA picture. One by one -- to the applause of the American parents -- each of his teammates made it over and it became a joint USA-Israel photo.
Heller’s father, David, spoke of the gesture.
“[Israel] had just lost a tough game and showed incredible sportsmanship. Jew to Jew, player to player, this is what this is all about -- creating memories of a lifetime."
Moments like the post-game photograph were exactly why his son came to the Maccabiah.
“The Maccabiah has been a great opportunity to come to Israel and play with other Jews,” Ben Heller said. “In the past I’ve been the only Jew on the team, basically, so it’s nice to come and play with other Jews and a full Jewish team.”Relay BlogExperience Israel Team USA Hockey Players Bond Quickly with One Another (and their opponents)“When we went to the Western Wall, the whole team got together. That’s when we bonded as a team.” -- Ben HellerExperience Israel