‘Crazy’ about hockey Israeli family moves to Winnipeg so son can pursue dreams; others follow for summer skills development with Jets development program at Iceplex
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/09/2019 (1370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Roei Rozin is not a casual hockey dad.
When his son Guy, a nine-year-old inline hockey player with minimal on-ice experience, wanted to push his skill development to the next level, his father spared no expense and brought him to Winnipeg from their home in the small Israeli city of Kfar Yona.
A one-month camp with the Jets Hockey Development folks at the Iceplex went so well, Rozin brought Guy back again the next summer and the summer after that. By the fourth year, Rozin knew a more permanent solution was required and so, he uprooted his family — wife Pnina, daughter Roni and Guy and his brother Etay — and moved here.
Guy, Roei says, wanted to follow his dream, and the Rozins were fully engaged. The family is beginning its fourth full year of living on the Canadian Prairies and Roei understands that his motivation will be misunderstood by some.
“Everybody in Israel says I’m crazy,” he says. “Everybody… everybody. The parents, they all know me there because I’m demanding. But I support my son.”
At first, the Rozins intended to find a suitable billet for Guy, but that option failed to materialize. Leaving Israel, a country with only two indoor arenas, and moving to Canada for easy access to facilties and hockey expertise was essential if Guy was going to improve his game.
“I wanted to be a good player and the only way I was going to become a good player was if I came to Canada and played in Canada,” says Guy, a smooth-skating forward who’s entering Grade 11 and plans to try out for the Winnipeg AAA Under-18 Wild this fall.
Roei, 46, was a soccer player in his youth and his knowledge of hockey was limited mostly to what he had seen of the inline version of the game.
“We didn’t want to move because we had great jobs in Israel,” says Roei. “I was a manager of a big warehouse and my wife, she is a nurse. We didn’t want to leave the jobs and the life; we had a good life.”
Settling in Canada has come with its challenges.
Roei works as a cook at a local Popeye’s chicken restaurant while Pnina, unable to qualify for nursing work in Canada, is employed as a health care aide. The kids, including 16-year-old Guy, have settled into their new lives.
News of Guy’s progress has been spreading. This summer, five more Israeli kids (all under the age of 17) have joined the Rozins in Winnipeg, bunking at the family home in Charleswood while they pursue a future in the game they love.
The entire crew, which includes goaltenders Ido Steinberg and Itamar Melzer and forwards Noam Haba, Itay Vaitz and Eitan Gurfinkel, came for a summer of serious on- and off-ice training with Jets Hockey Development.
Roei is seeing a bigger picture now, conjuring up the concept of a hockey academy and even more kids from home.
“I need people to help me because this is going to grow,” he says. “It’s not stopping.”
Dave Cameron, the head on-ice instructor and Jets Hockey Development program manager, is impressed.
“This was a different concept,” he says. “To be honest, I wasn’t really sure how the summer would look. I didn’t know what the quality of players would be like and it’s shocking. They’ve really come a long way.
“They were at a very good level to start and building on their skills and building on some of the things we try to do. Now they are at a very good level and it’s fun to watch them develop.”
Cameron says Guy was limited by the language barrier at first but his improvement on the ice has gone hand in hand with cultural transition, aided by three years at Gray Academy and many hours of instruction at the Iceplex.
Last season, he played for coach Fred Barnes and the city AAA Monarchs, scoring six goals and 15 points in 16 games. He also missed 25 games with a broken pinky finger. More recently, Guy suited up for the Israeli squad at the third division U18 world championship, where the national team advanced to the final before losing in overtime to Bulgaria.
“He’s loved it and he’s done well and now those players from back home are coming to do the same,” says Cameron. “Because he goes back and they see how much he’s improved and other guys want to do the same thing.”
Gurfinkel, a 13-year-old left-winger from Herzliya who skated for the first time five years ago, has enjoyed his summer immersed in the game so much he wants to stay year-round.
“Yeah, I like it here,” he says. “I like to play here and to practise a lot.”
Eitan’s mother, Illit Geller, is just going with the flow.
“It’s absolutely insane, but when your son has a dream and he’s so passionate about it, at 13, that’s the point, you don’t want to stand in his way,” she says. “You want to enable it.”
Cameron says the Israeli kids have an appetite for the game and a work ethic to match.
“They came into our program knowing it was three days a week,” says Cameron. “Now they’ve booked more ice time to be on the ice more. So they’re in the gym a lot, they’re on the ice a lot. They wanted to get the full experience as much as they could while they were in Canada and they’ve done that.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.