Arizona Coyotes

Israeli hockey player David Levin trains in the Arizona Coyotes veteran’s camp against goalie prospect Erik Källgren.

In many ways, 20-year-old Israeli ice hockey player David Levin has the ultimate underdog story. 

Since he was a kid, he dreamed of playing for the NHL, but growing up in Israel, he wasn’t in the most ideal place to develop his ice hockey skills. But not even the desert could stop Levin from getting on the rink. 

Now his dream may become a reality as he advances to the veteran’s training camp for the Arizona Coyotes, the next step for players who impressed during the rookie training camp. Rookie training camps are for both undrafted and drafted players who have not yet played in the NHL; the term “rookie” refers to players who have a chance to be a rookie in the upcoming season. Typically, only a few players have a realistic chance at making a roster.

“There have been some great players on the Coyotes in the past and everyone has been very professional,” Levin said. “They know how to take care of their players on and off the ice.”

When Levin was growing up in Tel Aviv, the two closest ice rinks were four hours away for Levin. As a child he mainly played inline hockey — in which players wear roller skates — to compensate for the lack of ice. 

His father, Pavel, both opened the roller rink where Levin practiced inline hockey and trained Levin as his coach. The two would watch NHL games together at 2 in the morning due to the seven-hour time difference. Levin’s father extolled the NHL as the best.  

Levin’s passion for ice hockey was so strong that when he was 12 he moved to Toronto, Canada, to live with an aunt and uncle so that he could practice more. Moving to Canada from Israel was quite a shift for Levin, who wasn’t completely ready for the cold. But the change in geography allowed him to train consistently and that training paid off.

“Most of the other people I trained with in Canada were able to play since they were little kids, like 3 or 4,” Levin said. “But,I didn’t really start playing on the ice consistently until I was 12. So it’s a really big difference.” 

In 2015, Levin was drafted first overall in the 2015 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, and began playing for the Sudbury Wolves in Ontario for the 2015-’16 season. The OHL, one of Canada’s three primary junior ice hockey leagues, is for players ages 16-21.  

Levin is a winger, a forward position that primarily plays along the outer area of the rink.

The president and CEO of the Coyotes, Ahron Cohen, is excited to see Levin continue to progress in camp.

“He’s a very dynamic and smart player and we love having him in the camp,” Cohen said. “He had a great rookie tournament and really impressed our coaching staff. He’s not a veteran player so there are some obstacles to making the club, but he’s a great player and we’re looking forward to see what he can do in the veteran’s camp.”

Levin’s story is an inspiration for Israeli hockey fans, Cohen said, adding that it was exciting to imagine children in Israel “looking up to David Levin and saying, ‘Wow that could be me.’”

“He’s already really impressed me with his story to get to where he’s at now,” Cohen added. “It’s really amazing to see an example of hockey thriving in the desert. There are a lot of parallels between Israel and Phoenix.”

Although Levin’s main focus is playing in the rink, he is still required to serve in the Israel Defense Force for three years. Fearing that the commitment to the military would hinder his progress as a player, Levin petitioned the Israeli military and was granted a reprieve from service. He is expected to return to Israel and serve when he is 26. 

In addition to playing at the Coyotes’ rookie camp, Levin also trained at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2018 development camp and the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2018 rookie camp.

The Phoenix Jewish community has its own hockey star who is hoping Levin will soon don a Coyotes jersey. Rabbi John Linder of Temple Solel in Paradise Valley represented the United States in the 2013 World Maccabiah Games. The rabbi is happy to see that an Israeli native might soon be on his state’s team.

“David was wise to train and play in Canada,” Linder wrote. “I’m sure glad I didn’t have to skate against David when we played Israel and Canada for the Maccabiah Games in Israel six years ago. Even as a bar mitzvah boy, David would have skated circles around us ­— or me, anyway.”

The future looks bright for Levin’s hockey career, but he’s not getting ahead of himself just yet. Right now he’s working to make sure that he can make his dream come true.

“I’m just planning on taking it all one day at a time,” Levin said. “I’m going to show up every day and I’m looking forward to doing the best I can. In my head I have all the people in Israel and all the Jewish people there, so I want to make them proud.” JN

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