Israel is well known for its advancements in technology and thriving cultural scenes, but ice hockey? Not so much. However, Tal Averny, founder of the Israel Elite Hockey League, is working hard to change that narrative.
Remarkably, in just two short years, the league has doubled in size, moving from an initial four teams to an impressive eight. Even the daunting challenge of launching during the Covid pandemic didn’t dampen the spirit or slow the momentum.
The league kicked off at the Holon Ice Peaks, which wasn’t exactly traditional hockey – but a 4 on 4 format. According to Averny, “It was exciting.” The first season opened with 12 enthusiastic imports from abroad, attracted to the chance of playing hockey during the summer season when the European leagues take a break.
As Averny points out, “We are just one of three leagues that play during the summer. The other two are Australia and New Zealand, so we have the advantage of being much closer [to Europe].”
The second season saw a tripling of imports to 36 and the addition of two more teams. The venues were also upgraded to the Big Arena and One Ice rink. Fast forward to the third season, the league boasts of over 60 imports and yet another two teams. The recent additions include Herzliya Pioneers, U20 Academy Team, Haifa, and Netanya.
The success of the league has not only grown in terms of teams and players but has also attracted significant attention from Sports 5 to broadcast the games. As Averny aptly notes, “It’s remarkable what we’ve been able to build in a short amount of time, but it comes from a love of hockey and love of Israel.”
The value of this league isn’t just limited to providing a space for ice hockey in the summer. It also provides an invaluable opportunity for players seeking more game time or aiming to stay match fit.
The beauty of the league lies in its diversity, welcoming players from different levels— junior, college, and pro — all on the ice at the same time. Players currently playing in England and Finland have found a home in the league, like Michael Gennello, captain of HC Tel Aviv.
Sharing his experience, Gennello said, “My experience on the ice here has been amazing. It’s fun to watch the different styles of the game all blended together.” He further commended the tremendous progress of the local Israeli players, attributing it to the evident growth of the sport in the region.
Off the rink, players also enjoy the experience of exploring Israel and attending league-wide Shabbat dinners every Friday night. As Israeli player Yuval Halpert shared, “I love Israel — it’s such an amazing country, and seeing it through a tourist’s eyes, which is what I’m doing in the summer league, is just so fun.”
Looking ahead, Averny envisions the league growing even more significant. He’s collaborating with the city of Ashdod to build a dedicated rink for the league. He added, “It will be great for us to have a home and it will also help us save costs.”
This tale of the growing love for ice hockey in Israel is not just a testament to the sport’s global appeal but also a reflection of Israel’s warm and welcoming spirit. The State of Israel continues to shine as a place where diverse interests, cultures, and sports can blend and thrive, truly echoing its enduring values of unity, resilience, and innovation. Come, witness, and be part of the exciting journey of ice hockey in Israel.