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National Teams Hit Local Ice

February 17, 2005

While the NHL's billionaire owners and millionaire players lament the loss of the NHL season, two teams playing for the love of hockey will take to the ice in Southern California.

The junior national teams of Israel and Mexico began a four-game series Wednesday at HealthSouth training center in El Segundo, practice for the Israelis before next month's World Under-18 Division III championship in Sofia, Bulgaria. The teams will play in El Segundo again tonight before facing off Saturday and Sunday at Iceoplex in Panorama City.

The tour is part of a fundraising effort for the Israelis, whose home rink in Metulla was built with donations from Canadian Jews and had coaching clinics that featured Roger Neilson. Neilson died in 2003.

"We're helping kids and helping Israel and hopefully creating a different image," said Leonard Silverberg, a Tarzana doctor who helped finance the trip.

The Israelis are coached by Jean Perron, who led the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1986. He was invited to work with the youngsters when they toured Montreal in 2003 and became their full-time coach at the request of Alan Maislin, owner of a Montreal trucking firm and chairman of the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel.

Many of the players or their parents went to Israel from Russia, but some are native-born.

"They skate pretty good. They play an American-style game," said Perron, a French Canadian whose instructions in English are translated into Hebrew. "They're not afraid to go in the corners and get involved in plays. As far as controlling the puck and passing the puck, the problem is, they don't play enough games."

Said Maislin: "I hope as a result of these games, we show our hockey skills and bring our cultures together. My ultimate dream is that through sports, we can achieve peace."

-- Helene Elliott

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