Two hockey players with local connections will play in the 20th World Maccabiah Games, a Jewish faith athletic competition to take place July 4 to 17 in Israel.
Robert Morris junior defenseman Eric Israel and Penn State sophomore winger and Upper St. Clair native Matt Mendelson will both skate for the American team that will be coached by Mercyhurst’s Greg Gardner.
‘The opportunity to represent my country and put on the USA logo is a dream come true,” Mendelson said in an e-mail. “It is a massive honor to be able to represent the United States in the games.”
Teams from Canada, Germany, Israel, Russia and the United States will compete in the Open Division. The American team won silver medals in 2013, when they lost to Canada in the final. Skating on that gold-medal Canadian team was Israel’s former Robert Morris teammate David Friedmann. Friedmann and Israel connected as soon as the latter arrived on RMU’s campus in 2015.
“Growing up in hockey, there’s really not many Jews that play,” Israel said in an RMU press release. “I’ve been fortunate enough to play with Daniel Leavens and David Friedmann. Honestly, I think those were my first Jewish teammates ever in hockey.”
Connecting with those that share both a sport and a faith is part of the draw of the tournament.
“Meeting new guys from all around the United States, becoming friends, and hopefully putting our talents together and winning a gold medal, which would be the best thing.”
Israel, 22, led RMU’s defensemen with 30 points last season. He finished fourth on the team in scoring and was a third-team all-Atlantic Hockey selection. The Huntington Woods, Michigan native was a big-time power play producer for the Colonials. He scored six of his eight goals and 15 of his 22 assists with a man advantage.
Mendelson, 22, will be looking to get his skates under feet after skating in just one game during the 2016-17 season for the Nittany Lions. After skating in 27 games and scoring three points as a freshman in 2016-17, Mendelson found himself on the outside looking in as Penn State made the program’s first run to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s always good to be able to play at a competitive level over the summer,” Mendelson said. “This trip is a great opportunity to keep my game at a high level throughout the summer. … I have heard very good things about the competition. The level of play seems to be very high and it keeps getting better every four years. I know that our team consists of players from a bunch of outstanding college hockey programs.”
The American team’s first game is scheduled for Wednesday at noon against Canada.