WASHINGTON — A group of young hockey players received some major encouragement, heading into the biggest tournament of their lives.
“Jeff Halpern, who used to play for the Washington Capitals, who also happens to be Jewish, sent us an email wishing us good luck,” said coach Monty Yolles. “I think the kids enjoyed that.”
Yolles coached the under-16 hockey team to a bronze medal, representing the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, based in Rockville, Maryland, during this week’s 2016 Maccabi Games in Stamford, Connecticut.
The yearly games for young Jewish athletes in the United States, ranging from 13 to 16 years old, are modeled after the The Maccabiah Games, which are held every four years in Israel, the year following the Olympic games.
Eric Koehler, CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Stamford said the JCC Maccabi Games is pronounced “muh-KAH-bee,” but is related to the more well-known “mack-uh-BEE-uh” games, named for Jewish leader Judah Maccabee.
Yolles, who has coached youth hockey for almost a decade, said this year’s team took part in history.
“This is the first year the Maccabi Games have included ice hockey,” he said. “Coming into the games we had no idea what to expect.”
Four dozen local players tried out for the team, which eventually included 16 skaters and 2 goaltenders, said Yolles, a Maryland attorney.
Yolles said his team included seven players from Northern Virginia, while the rest were from Montgomery County, Maryland.
The Northern Virginia JCC sent a delegation to Stamford, but did not send a hockey team.
In the bronze medal game, the Maryland team took a 2-1 lead in its game against a team from Toronto.
“I kept glancing at the clock, checking out how much time was left, hoping the clock was going a little bit faster,” he admitted.
While the Maccabi Games foster sportsmanship, they also include an arts fest, dance, culinary arts and musical arts.
“It allows kids from different cities to come together to compete and meet each other,” Yolles said.
The experience offers more than competition for Jewish participants, Yolles said.
“All the hockey players had an opportunity to sit down and listen to a Holocaust survivor tell her story,” said Yolles.
Yolles said the Washington-area young people will likely always recall their trip to Connecticut.
“We had the closing ceremonies, and they exchanged jerseys and other JCC paraphernalia with other teams from other cities, and they all had smiles on their faces, and that was what was really important.”