Friday, July 26, 2013

Friedman, Zimmel Win Silver at Maccabiah Games

PSU junior Jacob Friedman was one of Team USA's key players throughout the Maccabiah Games

In the open division hockey tournament at the 19th Maccabiah Games, held between July 20th and 26th, Nittany Lions junior forward Jacob Friedman and former Icers forward Jaime Zimmel won silver medals with the U.S. squad., following a 7-1 defeat to Canada in the final Friday morning.

The Maccabiah Games, often colloquially called the Jewish Olympics, brings more than 9,000 athletes from 78 countries to Israel to compete in 38 different sports over two weeks, making it the world's third-largest sporting event behind the Olympics and the World University Games. Each sport has tournaments for three separate divisions - juniors for 15-18 year olds, masters for those above a certain age (40 in hockey) and open for, essentially, everyone else. That last division, due to its inclusiveness, contained an eclectic mix of pucksters at the 2013 Maccabiah: former and current professionals, collegians and juniors were all involved.

The origin of the second-ever Maccabiah Games ice hockey competition is an interesting story in and of itself. While it was a demonstration sport in 1997, a tournament won by Canada over Team USA, hockey disappeared from the quadrennial event for the next three cycles.

That changed when six Jewish NHL owners (Anaheim's Henry Samueli, Tampa Bay's Jeffrey Vinik, Edmonton's Daryl Katz, Philadelphia's Ed Snider, Toronto's Larry Tanenbaum and Florida's Cliff Viner), along with commissioner Gary Bettman, threw their support behind installing hockey as a medal sport this year. As a result, Metula, Israel's Canada Center rink was renovated and notables from around the hockey world signed on to participate.

Not that things went perfectly from there. The U.S., Canada, Israel and France was the original open tournament field, but the French withdrew, forcing the organizing committee to permit a Ukraine team including non-Jewish athletes in as a replacement. Russia was reportedly in at one point, but pulled out as well.

Mike Keenan, Canada's coach and the source of much of the tournament's star power thanks largely to his 1994 Stanley Cup win with the New York Rangers, took a job in the KHL and had to quit - although his replacement, Guy Carbonneau, wasn't exactly a significant step down. On the U.S. side, defenseman Colby Cohen, who scored the national championship winning goal for Boston University in 2009 and was a black ace on the Boston Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup team, signed a contract in the Finnish Elite League and could not participate. The hosting Israeli team ran into budgetary issues that prevented them from importing many potential dual-citizenship players and paying insurance on professionals (categories that notably include Oren Eizenman, a former RPI star and the brother of Icers and ACHA Hall of Famer Alon).

Furthermore, just to ensure that hockey wasn't too much of a distraction from the real world, Canada Center - Israel's only full-size rink - is roughly three hours north of Jerusalem, but just a few hundred yards from the Lebanese border, necessitating a heavy presence of United Nations and Israeli security forces in the area.

It was against that simultaneously hopeful and issue-plagued backdrop that things proceeded, with each team playing the other three participants in a preliminary round that determined seeding for the semifinals.

The U.S. blasted shorthanded Israel 14-0 on the first day of the round robin, July 20th, and Friedman played a huge role in accelerating the score out of reach early. The Michigander scored three times in the first period (video: 1, 2, 3), generally by doing what he does best - carving out space in front of the net despite not being blessed with gargantuan size. Vermont Catamount Pete Massar set up the second and third goals by Friedman, while Zimmel assisted on the 2-0 goal, by Jacob Rosen. Ben Rosen, who just finished his career at Boston University, scored twice during the opening bombardment.

Icers alumnus Jaime Zimmel's three power play goals against Ukraine helped produce two tough wins

A much sterner test presented itself the next day in a Ukranian team highlighted by defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, who played 1,085 NHL games with the Kings, Sabres, Islanders, Flyers and Thrashers. However, Zimmel stepped to the fore to help Team USA improve to 2-0 in the round robin with a 5-3 win. He drew a first-period penalty that did not bear fruit, and the match remained goal-free after one period, thanks in part to a couple big saves by Air Force goalie Jason Torf. The 2009 PSU graduate then took over with a pair of power play tallies (1, 2). One opened the game's scoring within the first minute of the middle frame, while the other was a sufficient reply to Vitali Lakhmatov subsequently tying the score and gave the U.S. the lead for good.

Tuesday's showdown between the U.S. and Canada to close the preliminary round ended in a 6-1 decision for the maple leaf-bearing squad. The Americans did manage 43 shots, helped by a rash of Canadian penalties, but a stellar effort by former Clarkson goalie Cody Rosen kept the red, white and blue at bay. Adam Henrich, a 2002 second-round draft pick of the Lightning who bumped around the ECHL and AHL for six seasons before moving to Europe for the last three, had a hat trick for the victorious side.

Before topping the U.S., Canada thumped both Ukraine (7-1) and Israel (15-0), while Ukraine took care of Israel 12-3 on the final day of the round robin, so these were the final standings:

  Team W-L-T Pts. GF GA
1
Canada
3-0-0
6
28
2
2
United States
2-1-0
4
20
9
3
Ukraine
1-2-0
2
16
15
4
Israel
0-3-0
0
3
41

Top-seeded Canada earned the right to skate through Israel once again in Wednesday's semifinals (and they did, with 13-2 the score this time around), while Team USA needed to deal with a much tougher Ukraine to set up an all-North American gold medal game.

As in the U.S.-Ukraine meeting on July 21st, the rematch saw a scoreless first period before a Ben Rosen blast dented Ukrainian twine midway through regulation. Steven Weinstein made it 2-0 for the Americans a couple minutes later on the power play, a score that held up into the second intermission. Five minutes in the third, Zimmel's greasy tally on the advantage helped open the floodgates, and two Jacob Rosen markers sandwiching one by Dalton Weinstein closed out the scoring in what turned out to be a surprisingly decisive 6-0 win.

One of the tournament's storylines was its paucity of close games (the USA-Ukraine matchup in the round robin was the only one closer than five goals through the semifinals), but shockingly, the Israelis managed to buck the trend in the bronze medal game, leading the Ukranians after two periods and hanging within one into the last ten minutes before falling 9-5.

Unfortunately, things reverted to form in the border-war final that went to the northern side by a 7-1 count Friday morning. Game details are still sketchy (and considering that the teams are about to travel back to North America, it's tough to say when they'll be filled in), but Canada potted two goals in each of the first two periods - with the opener on the power play - before closing out with a 3-1 third. The winning side notably included Michigan Wolverines Zach and Spencer Hyman, which will undoubtedly give Friedman a little extra juice in at least four games for Penn State this season.

U.S. head coach Billy Jaffe, himself a former Wolverine and a player in the 1997 Maccabiah Games hockey tournament, said afterwards that "the boys left it all out on the ice but Canada was simply better." Nevertheless, he remained upbeat about the experience:


Congratulations to Jacob Friedman, Jaime Zimmel and the rest of Team USA on your silver medals and on representing your country with great distinction.

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