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Israeli hockey team to play Ferraro brothers' squad in benefit game

Peter Ferraro of the New York angers skates

Peter Ferraro of the New York angers skates in a game. Credit: Newsday/Paul J. Bereswill

There is just one full-size ice rink in Israel. The Canada Centre, located in a small city called Metula in the country's northern-most region that hugs the border of Lebanon, is about a 3 1/2-hour drive from the center of Israel.

"It's such an obstacle for the exposure of ice hockey in the country," said Tal Avneri, a defenseman for Israel's national team.

Considering that, who would suspect the number of registered ice hockey players in the country to have grown nearly threefold in the past five years?

But with events like Saturday night's exhibition between the Israeli national team and the Ferraro Brothers USA All-Stars at the Twin Rinks of Eisenhower Park, the sport has continued to pick up steam among Israelis.

Proceeds from the 7:30 p.m. game will go to the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel, which supports the development of the sport.

"In 2015, Israel hockey celebrates 25 years of development and hard work," said Evgeny Gussin, president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel. "We now reached a figure of nearly 1,200 registered players, mostly young kids, and we can proudly say 99 percent Israeli."

Peter and Chris Ferraro, the former Rangers who are partners in Twin Rinks and have been assembling a team for the event since the Israeli team first reached out to them in October, were humbled by the opportunity.

"When they approached us, Peter and I thought this would be a great opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the Israel national team program," Chris Ferraro said. "Israel is new to international competition and showcasing this talent in New York and at Twin Rinks will only help promote the game even further in Israel."

In addition to the Ferraro brothers, Team USA will include Arron Asham, Glenn Anderson, Matt Gilroy and Steve Webb.

"To get back together again with old friends, it's moments like these that are precious," Peter Ferraro said.

Support of Ice Hockey Israel, a non-profit organization that works hand-in-hand with the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel, has two primary goals.

Although an ice rink was built in Tel Aviv two years ago, it is half the size of the rink in Metula. Avneri, co-founder of Support of Ice Hockey Israel, sees today's event as another chance to raise funds for a full-size rink in Tel Aviv.

"If we can actually have a rink in the center of Israel, we can substantially increase the popularity of hockey, the development, the skill level," Avneri said.

Another aim is to send some young, skilled Israeli hockey players to Canada to live with a host family on a scholarship.

"They'll go to one of many prep hockey schools in Canada and they'll be able to really develop as a player and still go to school," Avneri said. "And when those players eventually return to Israel, they'll bring with them that experience, that skill set, what they learned and in turn, teach the other players in Israel."

But come Saturday, the Israeli team will just be happy to soak in the moment.

"To have the Ferraro brothers' support is probably one of the coolest things we've been able to do with the national team," Avneri said. "It's not every day that NHL players are interested in partaking in an event with a team like us. We're not your traditional team."

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