The Jewish Community Center Maccabi Games has teams from across the United States and Canada competing in ice hockey for the first time this year, and the Rockville-based Bender JCC of Greater Washington is one of 12 teams competing this week in Stamford, Conn.
“We are second or third generation hockey [fans] in this area,” said head coach Monty Yolles, before the team left for the competition. “The [Washington] Capitals team started in 1974 and people grew up on hockey. Some started playing youth hockey, and now their kids are playing hockey.”
With 18 players and two coaches, the Bender JCC’s ice hockey team is its largest delegation to the games, which also were played in Columbus, Ohio, from July 24 to 29 and St. Louis from July 31 to Aug. 5.
In the din of the Rockville Ice Arena last week, the hockey team had its final practice before it was due to board the train for Stamford.
“We’re a pretty good team and we’ve got a lot of good players,” said Zack Lechner of Rockville, an assistant captain of the team.“If we can mesh well, I think we’ll be able take home the championship up in Connecticut.”
Zach has been playing hockey for 11 years, which is all the more impressive considering he’s 16. Many of his teammates have also played for more than a decade.
Yolles, who plays in an adult league, described the sport as all-consuming. He sees the JCC Maccabi games as an opportunity for sports and Judaism.
“This event brings them together with other kids who share their interest in ice hockey but who are also Jewish,” he said. The players’ uniform includes shorts sporting Stars of David.
Morale among Yolles’ team at their final practice was high.
“The first couple of practices were kind of shaky, but I think we’ve come together well,” said team captain Ethan Steinberg, 16, of Alexandria. “I’m excited to go up, have a nice bonding experience, play some hockey and beat some Canadian teams.”
Ethan and his teammates have had a limited time to practice — only tryouts in February and March, followed by a few practices and one recent scrimmage with local players — before they headed to Connecticut.
While Yolles would have preferred more time on the ice before the competition, he isn’t worried. The biggest limiting factors for his practices were end-of-school and summer camp schedules, a logistical issue he believes was faced by many other teams.
When asked about the team’s prospects in the tournament, Chance Begun, 15, of Potomac, was confident, if nothing else.
He said: “I guarantee a victory.”