Women’s Hockey Premiere in Israel – IIHF.com

Israel is on the verge of making a great step forward as the country prepares to host the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Division III Group B. True, this is not the first-ever IIHF-sanctioned event to be staged in Israel as the men’s national team once played an Olympics Qualification in Metula back in 1996. But it was just one game then, while now we are talking about a three-team tournament well slotted in a steadily widening structure of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program.

Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina will join the host team in Tnuvot to contest promotion to Division IIIA. Whoever succeeds in a double round-robin tournament will make its first move upward as all three nations are relative newcomers in international women’s ice hockey.

The Contest of Sophomores

This is going to be only the second-ever World Championship for each of the three participants. Their presence on the world map clearly shows how the hockey family continues to grow in a post-covid era. After two years of pandemic-caused hiatus life came back to normal and last year’s first-ever IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III B came as undisputed proof of that. Serbia hosted the inaugural event welcoming neighbours from Bosnia & Herzegovina as well as Estonia and Israel. In this quartet, only Estonia could boast some history having contested a World Championship back in 2008. But after 14 years of absence, this could be rightly called a second debut if such a thing exists.

For the rest, this was a real debut without any reservations. Especially for Israel as their opening game in Belgrade happened to be the first-ever international game in the history of Israeli women’s ice hockey.

Estonia prevailed in Belgrade, comprehensively winning all three games with an aggregate score of 24-1, which was probably fitting for the only team with some – even a remote – pedigree. Gaining promotion to an upper level, the  Estonians showed others the way. Now the three sophomores are vying to follow the path.

Future is Bright

It’s amazing how young these three teams are. Last year in Belgrade, a total of 38 players were born in 2002 and beyond. Serbia led the way in the youth department with the entire squad that hit the ice of Pionir Ice Rink composed of players who could have formed an U20 team. How many of them have passed the 20-year mark since then, you may wonder? Just two.

All three nations have similar youth development programs scheduled for many years to come, which is undoubtedly the best thing you can do for the good of the game. If you can’t rely on mature players with a wealth of experience in young women’s hockey programs, you just have to raise them and the sooner you start the better. This is exactly what hockey authorities in Israel, Serbia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina have been doing in the last few years. Each time their young talents step on the ice, they step into the future which seems brighter with every shift of every game.

As one team is eventually going to win the ultimate prize, all three are looking to benefit from the forthcoming tournament knowing that valuable experience is the most needed of all assets at this time.

Exciting Experience for Hosts

Based on last year’s results, Israel may not be a favourite on paper but the host nation is still looking to be the major beneficiary. According to Esther Silver, the team’s General Manager, a unique chance of hosting an official IIHF event will undoubtedly give a huge push to the game.

“Having the tournament here is absolutely a boost for local hockey – and for the OneIce Arena – which is hosting,” she says. “It will increase awareness of women’s hockey in Israel and hopefully draw in more girls and young women to come and join the program.”

Silver knows what it means for a young and inexperienced team to feature on an international stage as she keeps the fondest of memories from last year: “The tournament in 2022 was exciting and fun! Our girls are so social that they won everyone over… so much camaraderie. And they really improved their play in just over one week and were exposed to a higher level of hockey. It was run quite well and despite Covid restrictions, everything went smoothly.”

Last time out, Israel failed to impress on the ice losing all three games but now the team is looking to be more competitive as the past year brought some experience, notably in Jerusalem in July 2022.

“We participated in the Maccabiah,” Silver explains. “First time ever that there was women’s hockey. It was terrific and even a higher level than the IIHF games in Belgrade.”

Backed by this experience, the Israeli women’s national team hopes to do better than a year ago – maybe achieving its first World Championship win or at least scoring more than a lone goal they put on their credit last year. However, Esther Silver prefers not to set any particular goals.

“For the upcoming tournament, I’m hoping that all the training the girls have gone through will show in their play – smarter moves, anticipating plays, killing penalties and just playing more efficiently,” she said. “This year we have about three, four new players including a veteran who was one of the pioneers of women’s ice hockey and a couple of younger players. The line-up is pretty good, we have a very talented goalie, so I’m hoping we’ll have a better outcome this year.”

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