Joshua Botnick grew up in Toronto. He’s been playing hockey in various leagues and pickup games since he was a kid. So when his boys got old enough to play, he started looking around LA for a league to start them off. He couldn’t find one. “Every league I looked at in the LA area played on Shabbos,” he explains. “I’ve taken them to different rinks to get them on the ice and playing. But I wanted to get them into a league and there was none available.”
When Botnick couldn’t find a league he decided to start one. “I started looking around to see if anyone else was interested in playing ice hockey. I posted on Hilly and got a surprising number of responses. That’s when I started looking for available rinks, and Yitzchok Tenenbaum got in touch. He was able to find us a rink. Between the two of us we found more people and formulated teams.”
Tenenbaum had been in a similar situation. His kids love hockey, and he had been taking them to play wherever he could. “There’s this rink out in Van Nuys that’s affiliated with the Kings,” he explained. “The Kings have this promotional hour where they supply all the gear and equipment and for four weeks kids can come for an hour on Sundays and play with coaches who give them drills. My kids were very into that.” After several weeks of attending, one of the coaches approached him. “He told me, ‘Your kids are pretty good, why don’t you sign them up for a league?’ I explained to him that most of the leagues are on Shabbos, and we can’t play then. He said, ‘Yeah, we had a lot of observant Jews interested but they all had the same reason. If you put something together we’ll work something out.’”That was right around the time Botnick was posting to Hilly. “So I got in touch with him and I said, ‘Look, let’s do this together. Let’s get some kids together and we’ll do it.’” And that’s what they did.
In December they put together an eight-week session hoping to get 20 kids signed up. “We ended up with so many kids we had to start a waiting list,” recalls Botnick. Not only did more kids want in – the kids who were registered wanted more. After their initial session ended they started another; they are now finally closing their season this week, ending their third eight-game session. This season included four teams and nearly 55 kids. It’s an all-Jewish league, and players come from schools all over Los Angeles, including Maimonides, Yavneh, Emek, Toras Emes, and Cheder Menachem. They plan to expand next year. “We want to start after Succos,” says Tenenbaum. “We really want to make it more of a league. We’re hoping for a 16 to 20 week season, with standings, team practices, playoffs after the season, and then a championship game.”
In the meantime, the league has already been a success in more ways than one. “Our main goal was that the kids have fun,” said Tenebaum, who took care to make sure they met that goal. But while the kids were competing, they were learning more than skating and shooting. “On top of the physical exercise, we emphasized the lessons they should learn, as part of being a team,” he said. “Over a few weeks they’ve learned how to work as a team for a common goal. They’re learning how to be good sportsmen when they win, not taunting their opponents. And how to deal with losing, letting go and understanding that you win some and you lose some. It’s a huge Kiddush Hashem; the people at the rink are very impressed with our kids’ behavior. There’s no foul language or tantrums.” The lessons stretch well beyond the ice. “It’s been amazing to watch. I see in my own kids how much they’ve matured in terms of dealing with winning and dealing with losing, connecting with teammates and listening to referees. The parents are loving it, the kids are loving it, I’m loving it,” Botnick sums up. “I look forward to practice every week.”