Grandchildren and Hockey

The amazing tale of two of my puck-crazed grandkids. Good news in Calgary. Marc-Andre Fleury put on his new threads. Edmonton-Calgary rivalry update.

The hockey season is over both in the NHL and Israel where my two grandchildren, Avigail, 12, and Ariel, 15 never seem to get enough ice.

With a lack of rinks in Israel finding ice is no easy task. 

Their home rink, Canada Centre in Metula, is right smack on the Lebanese border. 

Many of their games are played in the country’s “Center,” that is, either in Netanya (a two hour drive) or in Holon (a two and a half hour drive).

Now, get this: Next on the agenda for them is a trip to Switzerland for still more hockey. Their Dad, Simon, -- also head coach and trainer --  wants them to get de luxe Swiss instruction unavailable here in Israel. The lovely, ancient city of Bern is their destination.

If Ariel and Avigail impress during the August 3-10 visit, they'll return to Bern in September and be assigned to a team in their age and group. At least that's their Dad's hope and he's secure in the knowledge that his kids are ready for bigger, and better hockey stuff.

Although I've made my living in hockey all my life -- and wrote many books about the sport -- I didn't plan on having hockey-playing grandchildren. 

Nor did my son, Simon, who had been a goaltender at Northwood Academy in Lake Placid. 

A virus Simon caught while on vacation in Greece caused myocarditis and then cardiomyopathy in 1993. This forced Simon into a situation where a heart transplant was needed. Which he got; but it ended his hopes for an NHL career.

“I could see from the beginning, when the kids first got on ice at Rockefeller Center during a visit to my parents house, that they had an immediate and natural feel for skating,” Simon recalled.

When they first started to play hockey in Metula, there was immediate progress. 

This came to an abrupt halt, because of Avigail’s intense travel sickness. The daily trip to the ice in Metula is a forty-five minute drive and a descent from the Golan Heights of 3, 510 feet. 

After a five year hiatus and another trip to New York City -- poof! -- just like that they got the bug only this time it wouldn't go away. Still hasn't.

In the years since, I've proudly -- like any certified saba-- watched them grow as players. 

Ariel, who has amazing hands, a strong net front presence and natural scoring abilities, needed work on his skating. 

Dedicating himself to improvement, he is now one of he fastest skaters in Israel. 

This year was Ariel’s second year playing in the Israeli men’s league against players twenty years and above. Many are players returning from American and Canadian Juniors along with European leagues and he was a point a game player. 

Two years in a row, Ariel has now made the Israel National Team’s U-18 squad and was the youngest the first time around. 

Avigail is a natural, fierce defenseman, who regularly competes against older boys and has been known to knock a few on their kiesters, Her instincts are pro-natural and she never seems to get enough ice time.

Like her brother, Avigail, at twelve years,, has made a major step forward. She was accepted for Israel’s national inaugural women’s team. 

What's more, they devour as much hockey away from the rink as possible. That means watching big-league games on television and endlessly studying the techniques of the National Hockey League stars.

"I'm looking for stuff that would help my game," Ariel explained. "How they shoot, stickhandle and use their edges, to improve my skating."

Ariel is a confirmed Rangers fan -- pity -- while Abba Simon and Avigail root for the Islanders 24/7 -- and even more during the playoffs.

But NHL hockey is down the line for The Flying Fischlers; right now it’s a question of getting and making a favorable impression in Switzerland. From Saba's view, both kids have the goods.

The key, to me, is motivation. When they're not on the ice, they're on in-line (roller) skates, or the stationary bikes or the gizmos adorning our deck where they practice shooting and breaking the unbreakable pucks.

Avigail -- alias "Gully" -- so worships the ice that the Islanders Mathew Barzal skates on, she asked me to have him send a Bat Mitzvah video; which -- sweetheart that he is -- he did. Her wish is to skate and stickhandle like Matty.

The kids have proven that the Israeli competition is not on a par with their compete level, so it is time for them to try their skills in Europe or North America. 

The best case scenario has them playing in Switzerland and becoming regulars -- stars maybe!

Really, the only thing I'm hoping for is that they realize their dream!


Stan’s Java Jive

HEADLINE: GOOD CALGARY ARENA NEWS

THE JIVE: Our trusty sports-business columnist, Evan Weiner has an upbeat report on the proposed new Flames arena.

Calgary elected officials and the owners of the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames franchise have figured out how to pay for all of the construction costs of a proposed arena. The two sides reached an impasse in the funding mechanism for the building earlier this month. Each side will kick in $12.5 million or $25 million collectively. The construction was scheduled to start in August with a 2024 completion date but start of construction will happen sometime in 2022. In 2019, the city and the team owners agreed to a plan that would split the cost of the projected $550 million Canadian cost of the building. More money was needed for the project and someone had to pick up the tab. Earlier this year, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation put out a statement saying "there is a difference in the current budget estimate and the program requirements for the facility." Flames’ owners were pushing the city elected officials to fund a building for years. Flames’ ownership wants a revenue generating arena but needed to get some public loonies from the city to subsidize the building’s cost.

In 2017, the Flames’ ownership threw in the towel and decided to end talks with Calgary elected officials and said they were going back to the old arena and that was it. The owners would move the franchise but cooler heads prevailed and the two sides spoke again.  Of course, in sports no owner ever walks away from the table stomping his or her feet and saying I am not talking to you anymore about you spending money for my factory. Two years later, the two sides reached an agreement to build an arena. In 2021, the two sides hit a speed bump delaying construction but now its full speed ahead for a new Calgary Flames building.


HEADLINE:  THE FLOWER WILL BLOOM IN THE WINDY CITY

THE JIVE: When not pushed around and insulted, Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the most pleasant -- not to mention competent -- players in the NHL. Unfortunately, when Vegas imported Robin Lehner to replace The Flower as the Knights starter, Marc-Andre felt the push but chose to grin and bear it. 

But when g.m. Kelly McCrimmon unexpectedly booted Vegas’ once-favorite player to the Windy City -- without notice nor a thank you -- Fleury was suitably insulted. Hence his anger and uncertainty about continuing his playing career. But -- as my Mom liked to say -- time is a healer. Fleury will play for Chi and everybody will be all the better for it; especially the Blackhawks -- and The Flower who will bloom in the Windy City.


HEADLINE: INTERESTING CONTRASTS IN EDMONTON AND CALGARY:

THE JIVE: The Oilers and Flames don't like each other; that's as much a given as Punch and Judy; or the Hatfields and the McCoys; or the Rangers and Islanders. (You get the point.) What makes the rivalry more interesting this year is that both Edmonton and Calgary have signed similar free agents. The Oilers have paid a ton of money and term for Zach Hyman; never a first-liner but plays like one; and the Flames did likewise with Blake Coleman. These guys play so alike that if you switched uniforms you wouldn't know one from the other.

What I'm wondering about is which one of the pair will do most for his respective team. It would be easy to say Hyman because he's aligning himself up with the McDavid-Draisaitl cartel; the most powerful in the west.

But Coleman might just be the catalyst Darryl Sutter wants for a team in deep need of an energizer. Either way, it will make for an interesting study and an even better rivalry.


HEADLINE: STAYING IN COLUMBUS AIN'T THE WORST THING.

THE JIVE: Let's face it, the Blue Jackets have taken an unfortunate hit. Seth Jones' move to Chicago is just another of a long list of quality players -- Panarin, plus -- that have moved on to greener pastures. Mind you, it's all legal but, at the same time, it doesn't make Ohio look good. But give the BJ general staff credit for acknowledging the problem and doing something about it.

The most recent signing of crack defender Zach Werenski is Exhibit A. Other recent signees include Sean Kuraly, Boone Jenner and Jake Bean. Nailing down Werenski was important because he's become the face of the franchise and also has made it clear he loves living in Columbus.

Then again, with a total package worth $57.5 million, you would too.