JERUSALEM — The horn sounded and Canada erupted into cheers. Gloves and helmets were thrown across the ice at Pais Arena in Jerusalem on July 22.
Canada won the inaugural women’s ice hockey gold medal at the Maccabiah defeating the United States and star Chelsey Goldberg, 6-2. Israel took bronze.
Canadian players waved their hands left and right and hugged each as the song “Hall of Fame” by The Script played. Fans cheered “Let’s go Canada!” as the team hoisted the Maccabiah 2022 Championship banner.
A few moments before, these two teams were adversaries on the ice. Now they are blended by the love of sport and connected thanks to their trip to the holy land of Israel. All three nations joined in singing “Hatikvah” – the Israeli national anthem as the medals dangle on their sweaters.
For Goldberg, her vision came up one win short. But her success is undeniable. She came to Israel in early July wanting to win gold. But getting women’s hockey to the Jewish Olympics was a feat unto itself after a decade-long struggle comparable to training for a gold medal.
Goldberg was the primary reason for women’s hockey at the Maccabiah after she was told she couldn’t even try out for the men’s team in 2013 and 2017. She savored this moment as the last to leave the ice as a member of the team she helped create.
“It wasn’t the medal that we wanted … It’s still a huge accomplishment but moral of the story, the biggest accomplishment was that we made (women’s hockey at the Maccabiah) happen,” Goldberg said. “I think it was in that moment when everyone had gone off the ice … I couldn’t help but let it sink in that moment that this finally happened.”
She took pictures with the Canadian and Israeli players during the medal ceremony. One thing she does recall saying to Canada and Israel was “we did it.”
Goldberg worked tirelessly to create a women’s hockey delegation for the United States and got help with Canada’s formation from its eventual captain Melissa Wronzberg, who Goldberg knew from playing in the Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association (PWHPA). With two delegations confirmed, Goldberg needed one more country to solidify the inaugural women’s hockey bracket.
“We had gotten word from the USA delegation that team Israel actually had a women’s team that was practicing,” Goldberg said. “We were like ‘Alright, let’s do it we’re making this happen.’”
While Goldberg won the silver, not the gold – there was no question. She was the big winner in Israel.
“I got asked along the way while I was in Israel ‘How are you feeling? Has it hit you yet?’ and I’m like ‘No, it hasn’t hit me yet,’ because it’s literally so surreal that it actually happened,” Goldberg said. “For me to sit on the ice and look around and see that it happened, it was something that I will never forget.”
A first for everyone
Zoey Pellowitz is a co-captain of the inaugural Maccabi USA women’s hockey team with Goldberg. The two have known each other for over a decade. Pellowitz idolized Goldberg when they met at hockey camps.
Pellowitz was one of the first off the ice after receiving the silver medal and congratulated Canada and Israel. She leaves Jerusalem with the friendships of new U.S. teammates and those from the other two delegations.
She was proud to see Goldberg’s vision come to life and partake in it too saying “she deserved a gold medal.”
“To see it form over the last years was incredible,” Pellowitz said. “It happened so fast. We got our last player in May and then we’re here in July just to be here, it’s really special. Chelsey did have a huge role in it and it was awesome to see how much she accomplished.”
Head Coach Justin Levin never led a women’s hockey team before this tournament. His experience entails coaching the Drexel University men’s hockey team, and he came to Israel on a larger mission than to win gold.
“There’s always a sense of purpose that we’re here to grow the game, to promote hockey in Israel — especially women’s hockey in Israel,” Levin said. “Although this is the first time women’s hockey is being played in Israel, it’s certainly not gonna be the last.”
What will 2025 and beyond look like?
Maybe if a movie is ever made about women’s hockey at the 21st Maccabiah the credits will roll and list the cast of Goldberg, Pellowitz, and Levin among many others. Maybe there will be post-credit pictures detailing how their lives panned out post-Maccabiah.
Pellowitz’s hope, along with Goldberg’s, is that the Maccabiah returns to Israel in 2025 with a larger field or maybe more divisions of hockey to include juniors and masters.
“We will have another women’s team present,” a passionate Goldberg said.
Now that the tournament is done, Pellowitz sees the impact of what Goldberg and the Maccabi USA delegation did by bringing women’s hockey to the international stage.
“There’s a moment where you’re like, ‘Wow, we really just did that. We grew women’s hockey,’” Pellowitz said. “I think it’s just going to continue to build and I think that the next (Maccabiah) it’s going to be even bigger. The teams are going to be even better.”
The work for 2025 begins now for Goldberg. She wants to spearhead the effort for the 22nd Maccabiah which she said she will “absolutely” be a participant. Her new goal is to place a larger emphasis on women’s hockey in Israel and around the world.
“This is going to be another one of those ‘I don’t know what it looks like, I don’t know how long it’s going to take but I’m going to make it happen,’ things,” Goldberg said. “I think this is only just the beginning for what’s to come for women’s hockey and Israel as a whole.”