At first, Chelsey Goldberg just wanted to play with the boys.
The California native, former Northeastern women’s hockey star, and two-time Beanpot champion had no other way to participate in the Maccabiah Games, an event known as the “Jewish Olympics.”
Held every four years in Israel, the Maccabiah Games are one of the largest sporting events in the world. But they had never featured women’s hockey.
After being told she couldn’t play with her twin brother Chad on the men’s team in 2013, Goldberg, a member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association, set out to change that.
“From that point on, I was determined to get women’s hockey to the Games,” said Goldberg, 29. “I thought, if the men have the opportunity to play in these Games, why can’t women?”
Goldberg had no idea what the process would look like. It took almost nine years for her dream to come to fruition.
Devra Schorr, the co-chair of ice hockey for Maccabi USA, said there were “years and years of politicking behind the scenes” to get it into the 2022 edition.
“Years and years of building interest and trying to get other countries to be interested in it,” Schorr said, “until this time around, it happened.”
Three countries — the US, Canada, and Israel — participated in the tournament. Canada took home gold.
For Schorr, the realization of what they had done hit at the very beginning of the tournament, when the first puck was dropped.
“You saw the expressions not only on [the players’] faces, but looking in their eyes and on both sides for all the people that were involved in this journey,” said Schorr. “The coach, the players, everybody had a moment of ‘Wow, we’ve reached this goal.’ ”
For Goldberg, it was the opposite — she finally allowed herself to feel all of the emotions that had been building up over the last decade when the final buzzer of the final game sounded.
“I was just soaking it all in up until that point, it really sunk in that the competition was over and that we made this happen,” said Goldberg. “It was such a surreal feeling that I can’t even put into words.”
Goldberg sees the success at the Maccabiah Games as a watershed moment in growing women’s hockey around the world. It aligns directly with her participation in the PWHPA.
“Our whole goal is to grow the game and create a sustainable league for the next generations to have a place to play post-college,” said Goldberg. “Getting women’s hockey to the Maccabiah Games, it’s kind of full circle of my whole mission of playing professionally.”
On a personal note, the experience helped Goldberg connect with her faith and appreciate the role her Jewish heritage has played throughout her life and career.
“Combining faith with sport is so powerful,” said Goldberg. “... Looking around being like, ‘He’s Jewish, she’s Jewish, that coach is Jewish, that staff member is Jewish,’ everyone was Jewish and that was so cool to see because I have always been one of the only Jewish athletes on any one of my teams.”
Team USA coach Justin Levin found the Maccabiah Games to be one of the best coaching experiences of his life, and he credits Goldberg for making it happen.
“She should be really proud of all her hard work culminating in what was a tremendous experience, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many,” said Levin. “She is a tremendous competitor, a fantastic hockey player, and an even better person.”
For Goldberg and Schorr, this is not the end of their journey. In the next Maccabiah Games, Goldberg hopes to have established two women’s teams — an open team and an 18-and-under squad.
Growing the sport in Israel is difficult. It’s a region where hockey infrastructure is not nearly as developed as it is in the US or Canada. Getting that younger generation involved would change that. Goldberg also has her sights set on helping bolster the Israeli national team.
“I would love to see Team Israel be able to compete internationally,” Goldberg said. “I want to help be a part of that however I can and continue to grow the game of hockey over in Israel.”
Mainly, though, Goldberg sees the work they’ve put in so far as just the first step of a journey that took nearly a decade.
“This is only the beginning,” said Goldberg. “We’ve started something for the years to come.”