|Fresno Falcons center Oren Eizenman is trying to do his part to help hockey become more popular in Israel.
The 22-year-old is a dual citizen of Canada and Israel, as both of his parents are from the latter. Eizenman, who has 19 goals and 19 assists in 32 games, is awfully proud of his heritage and has represented Israel in such events as the World Championships, where helped his country win a gold medal in Division II in 2005. His older brother, Alon, played collegiate hockey at Penn State and was invited to participate in training camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2001.
“It was amazing. Just going to the world championships and representing my country was amazing. Obviously, we don’t play at the same level as Canada or the United States, but it’s still thrilling nonetheless. It was a great experience … both my brothers teamed with me. We all played on the same line. It’s a lot of fun playing with them. It was kind of like playing on the pond behind our house.”
Eizenman is hoping his play in North America opens some eyes in Israel. While the sport doesn’t rank among the most popular in Israel, one has to be under the impression that, in the long run, it will only help the cause.
“It’s a growing sport,” Eizenman said. “We’re trying to do our best to kind of get it to be more popular in Israel. The climate doesn’t lend itself so well to hockey. It’s very warm all the time. There’s only one NHL ice sheet in Israel. To be honest, we want it to grow, but I think it has a long way to come with it, if our program wants to compete. We have our work cut out for us.”
After playing the last four seasons at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, it would have been understandable if Eizenman needed some time to adjust to professional hockey. Instead, the rookie leads the Falcons in scoring and will represent the National Conference at next week’s ECHL All-Star Game in Stockton, Calif.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Eizenman, who took part in the AHL’s Chicago Wolves’ training camp. “Coming into my first pro season, I kind of went in with an open mind. I really had no idea what was going to happen or anything like that, so I tried not to think about it too much. I just wanted to work as hard as I possibly could and kind of let things fall as they may. I don’t think I really had many expectations. This is about as well as I could have hoped for.”
Eizenman has been a treat for Falcons’ coach Matt Thomas, whose team has reeled off six consecutive wins and has trimmed the Las Vegas’ Wranglers lead in the Pacific Division to just nine points. He’s also thrilled that Eizenman will get the opportunity to showcase his skills at the All-Star Game, which always hosts scouts from across the National Hockey League.
“He’s a guy who deserves it,” Thomas said. “He’s one of those guys you appreciate once you get him in front of you. He certainly deserves that opportunity, because he plays every situation for us. If he keeps developing the way he’s developing, he’s a guy that (AHL) teams would and should be looking to give him a contract for next year. He’s a player who’s only going to get better.
“He’s one of those guys you appreciate more and more every single day you coach him,” he added. “You don’t have to tell him twice. He’s very coachable and he’s a student of the game.”
Eizenman would gladly accept the chance to play in the AHL, but the humble forward is currently focused on improving in every aspect of the game. Thomas, along with assistant coach Ryan Mougenel, has provided him the opportunity to do just that, as they’ve trusted Eizenman in every situation possible.
“They’re big on developing whatever it is you need to work on,” Eizenman said. “Obviously, the drive has to come from the player, but they’re willing to stay out (on the ice) for a half-hour, an hour after every practice to work on whatever it is you need to work on. Being a young guy, I know that you have to work constantly to improve. I’m pretty happy with everything here.”
He’ll be even happier should the Falcons continue to climb the standings before they head into the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Fresno’s recent success has certainly helped Eizenman keep his mind off a possible chance to play at the Triple-A level.
“I try not to think about that stuff,” Eizenman said. “Obviously, I’d love to challenge myself at the next level. I think it would be a thrill and it would be an honor to get that call-up. But I love it here. The guys are great. The way the season’s going right now, I’m just trying to focus on doing as well as we can in Fresno. Hopefully, we can make a run deep into the postseason. I know there’s a long way yet to go, but it’s nice to kind of be on a team where everyone is pulling in the same direction.”
Considering what Eizenman has accomplished in his first 32 professional games, it’s a safe bet that Thomas will be relying on the rookie center to provide a decent chunk of the offense in the playoffs. Whether Eizenman can provide that remains to be seen, but there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that he’s willing to do whatever the Falcons ask of him.
“I knew he was going to an impact first-year player,” Thomas said. “Every point he’s gotten this year has been through hard work. He doesn’t get second assists. Those 38 points are legitimate, hard-working points. There’s not cockiness about him, but a certain confidence in his game. Sometimes I have to tell him how good he is, because he truly doesn’t believe it, and that’s why he works so hard. It’s a good quality to have.”
Brian Compton can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.