NOTE: This story originally appeared in The Hockey News' Playoff Preview issue.
Women’s hockey is growing across the globe. This summer, that growth will include the first women’s tournament at the Maccabiah Games, which is billed as the world’s third-largest sporting event, with more than 10,000 athletes taking part from July 12 to 26.
The Maccabiah Games, which take place in Israel and are often referred to as the Jewish Olympics, were founded in 1932 and have included men’s hockey since 1997. The tournament has featured notable players in recent years, including NHLer Zach Hyman, who represented Canada in 2013 on a team coached by Mike Keenan.
This year, women’s hockey will make its inaugural appearance – featuring teams from Canada, the U.S. and Israel. That development is thanks to Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association veteran Chelsey Goldberg.
Goldberg, a member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, watched her twin brother compete in the tournament and decided that Jewish women deserved to play, too. She set about an eight-year process of recruiting players and lobbying the Maccabiah Games for the inclusion of a women’s tournament, which will come to fruition this year. “I wasn’t able to have that opportunity, and I thought, ‘This needs to change,’ ” she said. “It’s really exciting that women’s hockey can finally be a part of this event and that there’s enough interest and support to make it happen.”
For Goldberg and the other women in the tournament, it will be a unique opportunity to meld their faith and passion for hockey into a single event. “That’s what I’m most excited about,” Goldberg said. “Bringing my faith and my passion for the game together. To me, being a Jewish athlete, it’s really special because there aren’t many Jewish women’s hockey players that I’ve played with or against. I’ve always been one of the very few, if not only, Jewish players on my hockey teams.”
Goldberg spent four seasons playing at Northeastern University before joining the CWHL’s Boston Blades and now the PWHPA. She sees the inclusion of women’s hockey at the Maccabiah Games, particularly having a team from Israel, as a stepping stone for global participation in women’s hockey. “It’s huge,” said Goldberg about Israel icing a team. “If you look at the past Olympics, there were new teams representing their country at the Games. This is a great opportunity to get women’s hockey introduced to Israel at the international level.
“Being a Jewish athlete is so special, and seeing other countries filled with Jewish athletes and making this happen, it gives a sense to everyone in Israel that hockey is a sport women can play.”
Israel currently does not have a women’s hockey team in IIHF competition, while their men’s team sits 34th in the world rankings.
The Maccabiah Games will provide a look at high-level hockey for the Israeli team, as the Canadian and American rosters will be predominantly filled with college hockey veterans. While Goldberg will star for Team USA, Canada will have fellow PWHPA member Samantha Cogan leading the charge. Cogan twice represented Canada at the Under-18 World Championship, winning gold and silver. She also captured an NCAA title at Wisconsin and is now playing with the PWHPA. Backstopping Canada will be former Harvard University netminder Molly Tissenbaum.
Goldberg hopes the inclusion of women at the 2022 Maccabiah Games will help create opportunities for women of all faiths and backgrounds in hockey. “Ultimately, sport is a unifier for people across the board,” she said. “It’s important for the rest of the world to see that Israel has hockey, hockey exists there and everyone can play. Hockey is for everyone. No matter who you are, your faith, where you come from or live, you can play hockey. That’s the most important factor about getting women’s hockey to the Maccabiah Games.”
Beyond Hyman, there are many other Jewish NHL players, including Jack and Quinn Hughes, Adam Fox, Jakob Chychrun, Jason Zucker and Luke Kunin.
When the puck drops at the first women’s tournament at the Maccabiah Games, Goldberg would like it to be the beginning of something special. “I hope we can just continue growing the game of women’s hockey across the globe,” she said. “It would be incredible if Israel can keep growing their team and game to be recognized on the international scene and watch it take off there.”