When Glen Cove’s Jon Sandos gathered his USA Maccabiah Games hockey team for the first time, he set two goals: “Win a gold medal and have the experience of a lifetime.”
Both missions were accomplished last week as the United States won the gold medal, beating Canada, 2-1, in the junior championship game at Pais Arena in Jerusalem.
“The experience was incredible, being at an Olympic style event with almost 10,000 athletes participating,” said Sandos, athletic director at Portledge School in Locust Valley. His team included Long Islanders Ethan Gorelkin of Syosset, Alec Rovitz of Long Beach, Jacob Schapira of Farmingdale and Hayden Fried of Jericho.
“We were an incredibly skilled team and we had the pieces needed to win on the ice but it was the chemistry that was built before the tournament started that made it special,” Fried said.
Team USA won all five games it played, though after thrashing the host nation 12-0 in its opener, Sandos said it trailed in all of the following games.
“To be able to come back and win all four games after being down, it was a testament to their chemistry, leadership and positive attitude,” he said. “To win a championship you need goaltending, leadership and chemistry. And this team checked all three boxes.”
In terms of chemistry, he added that the team grew closer as its time in Israel went on and its players had a series of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
“We really came together the week and a half we spent touring the country,” Fried said. “That really brought us together. Within a couple of days, we became a really close team and everyone noticed.”
“For a lot of them, it was their first time going to Israel,” Sandos said. “Going to the Western Wall, each and every one of them got very emotional. It really wasn’t only the hockey. The cultural experience — traveling the country, meeting IDF soldiers, and other Jewish athletes — was just as important as winning the gold medal.”