The Canada Israel Hockey School (CIHS) continues to inspire young Israelis to love the game of hockey. But, for Amit Vinegrad, his passion for Canada’s sport might just be genetic.
Amit’s grandfather, Boris Mindel, played hockey at the highest levels in Russia before making aliyah to Israel. When NHL Hall of Fame coach Roger Neilson visited Israel in the 1990s to tour the Holy Land and run hockey camps for Israeli youth, Boris was one of Roger’s Israeli coaches and the two developed a strong friendship.
Jump ahead almost two decades and Amit, Boris’ 14-year-old grandson, was in Ottawa in July attending an Ottawa Senators summer hockey camp.
Amit lives in Katzrin, a small town in the Golan Heights with a population of almost 7,000 and the closest hockey arena is at the Canada Centre in Metula (which is in Ottawa’s Partnership 2Gether region of the Northern Galilee), almost an hour away. Amit will proudly tell you, though, that, when his Saba Boris is driving, the travel time is significantly less, which is helpful because Amit is on the ice three or four times per week.
Amit has previously travelled on CIHS trips to Winnipeg, Washington, Calgary and Vancouver, but this trip to Ottawa was his first without his teammates. It was his first trip without Hebrew-speaking coaches and his first hockey experience as the only Israeli on the ice.
For one week in July, Amit was the unofficial Israeli ambassador for all of the players, parents and coaches at the Sens hockey camp. He performed well on the ice. As one of his coaches told CTV, “He has a lot a raw talent and a passion to absorb everything the coaches are teaching him. He fits in very well.”
Where Amit really showed his maturity was off the ice. He wasn’t shy talking about living in Israel, bomb shelters, hockey, and just about any topic his teammates wanted to discuss. They were shocked to learn that he plays with Arab youth in the hockey school and that as a Jewish Israeli he can speak and read Arabic in addition to Hebrew and English. Many were shocked to learn that Jews and Arabs do get along together in Israel despite that not being what is portrayed on the news.
In Ottawa, Amit had toured Roger Neilson House, the pediatric palliative care facility at CHEO (which his grandfather Boris visited during a trip to Ottawa almost a decade ago), Parliament Hill, and the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the Ottawa Senators. He also worked out at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre and visited Hockey Life, a hockey store where he could have spent days as there are no hockey stores in Israel.
When CTV’s Matt Skube interviewed Amit, the young player made it clear that his goal is not to play in the NHL, but to stay in Israel and play for Israel’s national hockey team.