By BERNIE BELLAN
From time to time our esteemed sports writer, Harvey Rosen, has written something about Israeli hockey – either in reference to Israel participating in some hockey competition or another (usually with a mix of players not born in Israel) or Winnipeggers heading over to Israel to participate in a hockey tournament there.
Family moves here to further 13-year-old Guy Rozin’s hockey career
The one common denominator to those stories, until recently, was that it was Canadians, Americans and players who came from the former U.S.S.R. who were the principal subjects of those stories.
Then, a few years ago, Harvey wrote about a young Israeli by the name of David Levin, who had actually moved to Toronto to live with his aunt and uncle there while he furthered his own promising hockey career. David is now a star player for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League and hopes to be selected in the upcoming NHL draft. If so, he would be the first Israeli-born player to be drafted by an NHL team.
Now, Winnipeg too can boast of having an Israeli-born hockey phenom in our midst – a young lad by the name of Guy Rozin, who is currently playing – and starring with the Bantam Winnipeg Monarchs (B2 team) of the Winnipeg AAA League. (Bantam is for players age 13-14. Bantam 1 players must be at least 14 at the time the season starts, while Bantam 2 players have to be 13.)
Guy’s story was brought to our attention by Abe Anhang, who has played an instrumental role in helping the entire Rozin family move to Winnipeg and settle in here.
Here is how Abe describes how he came to know the Rozin family:
“My oldest friend from Winnipeg, Dr. Donald Silverberg (son of the late Jack Silverberg, who was a maths teacher at St. Johns and ultimately the principal of JWC) lives in Netanyah. Dr. Donald Silverberg has a son, Monte, who is a lawyer in Israel and Monte Silverberg had a friend (and client) by the name of Roie Rozin.
“Pnina (Roie’s wife) and Roie have always been sports people (Roie used to play professional soccer) and their kids are good at various sports – his daughter at gymnastics, their other son at tennis and their son Guy turned out to be an exceptional hockey player (how that came about I will let them tell you, since it is such a strange story)!
“When I found out that Guy (at age 12) had been the European MVP (most valuable player) for two years in a row (in an in-line hockey tournament), it sort of got my attention. Then, wanting to see whether he could make it in Canada competitively, I suggested that Roie and Guy come to a hockey school, so they came for the summer of 2014. He did well there, so I introduced them and they met with the people at Federation who were extremely helpful! As a result, the Rozins applied for Permanent Residence under the Nominee Program (Pnina is a registered nurse, which was in demand then). They moved here in July of 2016 and got their landing card in January 2017.
“Barbara (Anhang) and I sort of adopted them. Their 3 children are at the Gray Academy and have settled very well.”
After reading Abe’s email I contacted Pnina Rozin, whose email address Abe had given me. Pnina suggested I speak to her husband, Roie, which I did.
What follows is taken from the conversation we had:
The Rozins lived in a small city by the name of Kfar Yonah, near Netanyah, Roie told me
“We left everything – good jobs, good salaries – a good life,” all so that Guy could play hockey in Canada, Roie said.
I asked Roie what exactly led to the family’s making such a momentous decision – to pack up and leave behind a good life in Israel and make the move to Winnipeg. He explained that it started three years ago, when Guy was participating in an in-line hockey tournament in Europe (one of several European tournaments in which the then 11-year-old Guy had already participated). A coach from another team remarked to Roie that Guy showed exceptional promise as a hockey player. That coach said Guy “has something in his head – he’s very smart, and very fast, and I need to do something with him,” that coach suggested.
“Two years ago he started to play ice hockey in Israel. We have only two rinks in Israel,” Roie noted.
I mentioned to him that I had been to the new rink in Holon a few years ago, when I went to watch a group of expatriate Canadians and Americans (along with a sprinkling of former Russians) play scrub hockey in a game organized by former Winnipegger Danny Spodek.
Roie said, “Everybody who saw him (Guy) said ‘he’s a great player, you must do something’, so we decided to move to Canada – that’s the big reason – to play hockey.”
When I mentioned David Levin’s name to Roie, he immediately interjected, saying “David Levin is the best friend to us. I talk with him every two to three days. His father coached my son. He loves my son and he told me ‘Your son is much better than my son was at his age.’ ”
Before making the decision to move to Winnipeg though, Roie said that he and Guy visited three other cities in Canada where he tried out for different teams – in Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto. “They all wanted him,” Roie noted, but we decided to move to Winnipeg.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because of Abe (Anhang)”, Roie answered. “We also loved the area. We love the weather. Israel is very hot, but this area is good for hockey.”
I asked Roie whether he knew how many kids in Israel are actually playing ice hockey these days. He said that the figure is 5,000. “Wow!” I said. “Playing ice hockey?”
“Yes,” Guy insisted - “ice hockey.”
I asked Roie what type of work he is doing in Winnipeg right now. He told me that he is currently employed as a cook (at the Falafel Place), but that he was a warehouse manager in Israel, also that he was self-employed for a time. (I mentioned to him that I would note that he would prefer to be working in his chosen area of expertise, i.e. warehouse management, in case anyone reading this might know of a position for Roie somewhere.)
Pnina Rozin is also not working yet in her chosen field – as a nurse, as she will have to take courses to be accredited to work in that field here. In the meantime she is working as a companion for a private company.
Unlike other Israelis who have come here, however, the Rozins left behind what Roie described as a very “comfortable” life in Israel, all for the sake of Guy, so that he could pursue his dream of playing hockey.
I asked Roie what kind of player Guy is. “Is he really fast?” I wondered. (I later found out Guy is only 5’ tall – not unusual for a kid his age, but certainly not a prime asset when it comes to moving up in higher leagues as he gets older, unless he grows quite a bit.)
“Look,” Roie explained, “In Israel – and in Europe, it’s different than here. The kids play four-on-four. Nobody can catch him.
“Here, he’s very fast, but he’s not the fastest - but he’s very smart,” Roie added.
This past season Guy’s team ended up as city champion in its division, Bantam 2 (after finishing fourth in a five-team league, but winning the playoffs in a seven-game series.
Asked to comment on Guy’s progress as a player this year, his team’s coach, Jeff Sveinson, said that Guy had shown remarkable progress.
“He’s very small, but he’s very skilled, “ Jeff commented. When I told him that I understood that Guy had only taken up ice skating two years ago, Jeff was absolutely astonished to hear that, saying that he had no idea that it was such a short time ago that Guy actually stepped on the ice for the first time.
Guy’s two siblings are also excellent athletes, Roie adds. Sixteen-year-old Roni is a gymnast, while nine-year-old Etay is a tennis player.
Roie himself was quite the athlete in his day, he told me, playing soccer for Maccabi Tel Aviv at one point. He says he was forced to stop playing relatively young due to injuries he sustained playing soccer.
He also made this interesting observation (which I found quite sad): “In Israel we had a lot of friends; there were lots of things to do. After school the kids would go out. Here we’re alone, we don’t have friends, someone to talk to except for Abe (Anhang).”
I was surprised to hear Roie say what he just said, so I asked him: “You know there are supposed to be 4,500 mostly Russian Israelis here?”
He answered this way: “Yes, there might be 5,000 but the 5,000 are not connected to anybody.
“You know, the Russian Jewish community,” Roie continued - “this is a closed community. They don’t want you to come into their community. I had a lot of Russian friends in Israel, but they don’t want you to be part of their community.”
(I said to Roie that I knew there used to be a group of native-born Israelis who used to play soccer indoors at the Rady JCC. I told him that I’m going to try and find out whether those same guys still play soccer together. Later, I found out that they’ve stopped playing. It seems that age and the wear and tear on knees have taken their toll for most of those players.)
Still, I have to say that, as interesting as the story of how the entire Rozin family came to end up in Winnipeg is, I found it all somewhat hard to understand. Hockey fans will no doubt have heard of families that have made the move from the U.S. to Canada so that their sons could have families live nearby while they pursued their dreams of making it to the NHL, but to come all the way from Israel? That’s dedication on an entirely different level. As I said to Roie at the end of our conversation, “Let’s hope that Guy has a growth spurt” because, sad to say, the prospects for smallish hockey players, no matter how fast or smart, are quite limited in a game that is increasingly dominated by behemoths.
I suppose we’ll know how this story turns out in a few years.