National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman says he’s ‘proud’ that ice hockey brings Israelis and Arabs together.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
The ice hockey team from the Israeli city of Bat Yam may have thought it was a small step for up for international peace that they were the first Israeli sports team to play in the United Arab Emirates. The National Hockey League noticed, and they think it was super cool.
National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman sent special greetings to the Bat Yam Chiefs and to host Dubai Mighty Camels, who played what he called the “most historic” first ever Israel-Arab hockey games over the weekend in Dubai.
“We’re proud of the fact that hockey can bring people together,” Bettman said. “We wish all of the participants good luck and we hope this is the first of many such events.”
The Chiefs flew to Dubai last week and played games on Friday and Saturday, winning the first game 9-6 and the second 10-7.
“The highlight of the trip was coming together as a team to win two games in Dubai,” the Chiefs captain, Josh Greenberg, told United With Israel. “It was a surreal experience making history with my team. We battled hard and made more history by winning both games,” he said, adding that depending on the pandemic the Mighty Camels might come to Israel in two or three months time for “the grudge match.”
“We cannot wait to show more of what we can achieve, and what we can do when we work together. We hope for more opportunities to demonstrate our power!,” the Emirates Hockey Association said on their Facebook page.
The games were even scheduled to be played early Friday morning and late Saturday night to be sensitive to the Shabbat observant players.
The two countries didn’t have diplomatic relations until just a few months ago, and that kept the UAE and other Arab members of the International Ice Hockey Federation from competing against Israel in world championship games.
Israel is currently ranked 34th in the world and the UAE down the table in 47th place, with Kuwait near the bottom at 51st of the 54 ranked countries. Israel is currently in the IIHF’s Division II, Group A, but almost all championships were canceled this year due to the pandemic. Qatar and Oman are also IIHF members but have not competed yet in world championships.
When play hopefully resumes in 2021, Israel will face off in a tournament against Croatia, Spain, Australia, China, and New Zealand. It will be the 30th anniversary of Israel playing in international world championships. Their first appearance was in 1991 in South Africa when they finished 5th in the six-team tournament.
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