FAU hockey players guide youth team to state title

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Boca Raton’s David Israel said winning a state youth hockey championship in his first year as a coach was better than winning one as a player.

Israel had the year off from playing on the Florida Atlantic University Ice Hockey Club team when the pandemic shutdown the 2019-20 season, so he turned to coach the Palm Beach Hawks 14-under team, and it was a successful transition as the team captured the state championship at the Hertz Arena in Estero.

The Hawks, seeded third in the playoffs, opened the Statewide Florida Hockey League tournament with a 6-2 win over the Florida Bulldogs and then took out the previously undefeated and top-seeded Tampa Bay Junior Lightning Blue team 3-2 for the title. Tampa Bay had entered the title game ranked No. 1 in the state with a 16-0 record.

“It was more gratifying than winning as a player,” Israel said. “Words can’t describe it. It was so special and surreal with all of the hard work we put into the season…all of the extra work we put in with the practices and clinics.

“When FAU canceled our season because of the pandemic (last season), me and my assistant coach Matias Weir gave it everything we got and we pulled it off,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”

The Hawks grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Nino Von Dunop Guzzo, seven minutes in, and then another four minutes later by Frankie Murano scored. Tampa Bay trimmed the lead to 2-1 with a goal of its own at the end of the period.

Nino Von Dunop Guzzo scored in the second period with 1:30 remaining to make it 3-1 entering the final period.

“That was a huge goal,” Israel said. “It gave us a cushion and kept the momentum with us.”

Tampa Bay scored on a power play five minutes into the third period, but couldn’t get any closer and the Hawks held on for the championship.

The SFHL is a youth amateur league for Tier II USA Hockey Youth Teams, AA National Bound teams, and A teams operated by the governing body of hockey in Florida — the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida.

Israel said it was a difficult season because they had to deal with players getting COVID-19, and both Israel and Weir got COVID-19 last August, so their first practices took place over Zoom calls.

“Right off the bat we were facing adversity because we were starting later,” said Israel, who played his junior hockey locally with the Spanish River Bullsharks. “We battled through all year. The kids had injuries, we had to deal with COVID, games would get canceled. It was a lot of adversity, but I felt our team was very adaptable and because of that our team was able to be successful and we stayed consistent throughout the year.”

Israel, 21, who graduated from West Boca High School in 2018, was drafted by the Brookings Blizzard in the North American Hockey League, one of the top junior hockey leagues in the United States. He played a full season in 2018-19 and decided he wanted to come back home and enrolled at FAU.

“I moved back because I didn’t want to live in the cold,” Israel said. “It was a hard decision to make, but looking back it was the right one.

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“This is humongous,” he said. “It means everything to me. It kind of shows them what hard work can do. We were not the most skilled team, but we worked together and stayed positive. It was really a team effort.”

He started a business called Wolfpack Fitness in which he was training youth players on and off the ice and after playing his first season with FAU, he got the head coaching job with the Hawks.

The team trained at the Palm Beach Skate Zone in Lake Worth where they had a lot of protocols to follow. They would train for two hours. Israel also used a gym in his garage at his house to do workouts.

Israel is a sophomore is majoring in exercise science, while Weir, 23, is a junior majoring in business administration.

“This was my first year coaching as well,” said Weir, of Lake Worth, who has also played for the Argentina National team. “Truthfully, it is just really emotional with what we did. The fact we took we these kids to a state championship in a year like this is something they will remember for a long time.”

The team was composed of Jonah Lenamon, Cole Doherty, Andrew Bolek, Shane Garnett, Max Greenstein, Andrew Groth, Sianu Hogue, Dylan Kelman, Zachary Lorbach, Jack Marshall, Francesco Murano, Dylan Phifer, Donald Pratt, Michael Rozenblat, Nathan Shelowitz, Clayton Travers, Nino Von Donop Guzzo and Tavian Wolfe.

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