Back in the late 1980s, after being posted to several different Canadian Bases and Stations, I called my Career Manager in November and asked if it would be possible to get an operational posting somehow. It took all of two days for him to get back to me to say he wanted to send me as the Contingent Comptroller with Op Danaca in the Golan Heights. I was quite excited about the new posting and after taking the pre-deployment training in Montreal, ended up flying in to Tel Aviv in July 1989 and was transported to Camp Ziouani in one of the UN vehicles. The Canadian and Polish Logistics units supported the UNDOF staff which were headquartered in Damascus at the time, as well as Finnish Battalion in Camp Ziouani on the Golan Heights and the Austrian Battalion in Camp Faouar between Quneitra and the Sassa gate in Syria.
For the next six months, the weather was absolutely amazing – probably the easiest job a meteorologist could ever have. Forget the percentages – it was always sunny and warm. However, much to our surprise, and notwithstanding the ever present heat, we found out that there were actually two small skating rinks that were built with the help from some Jewish Canadians, one in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv and one in Haifa, on the Mediterranean coast in the northern part of Israel. Our Commanding Officer, LCol Wayne Carr, who had been the CO of 2 Svc Battalion before he came over, thought maybe we could play a little shinny to boost morale, so he suggested any guys going back to Canada on leave bring back their skates or else perhaps get someone in their family to send them over. He also knew that the Herc did a regular supply run from Germany, so he decided to see if the Baden or Lahr would be willing to send some hockey equipment over on the “milk run”.
Of course, none of the guys needed convincing – they had pretty much written off playing hockey that year once they had learned about their attached-posting, so this was an amazing turn of events and an opportunity not to be missed.
Sure enough everyone managed to get their skates and the Herc also arrived with all the gear, so our first trip was to the Haifa arena – calling it an arena was a bit of a stretch, but hey, it was ice. Let’s face it – every single one of those guys loved hockey and had played on much smaller patches of ice in their backyards, or on frozen ponds or peat bogs when they were younger, so nobody really cared. It was just so great to be able to skate and stick handle a puck again.
In the meantime, and much to our surprise, the Israelis had gotten wind of the CO’s plans somehow and so before we knew it, they decided to “challenge” us to a hockey game. The CO was a little surprised by the invitation, but being an Army guy, he was not one to turn down a challenge and quickly “warmed” to the idea. However, the closer we got to the game, the bigger it became, even garnering attention from the press back in Canada, especially given the fact that this game would become the first international hockey game ever played in Israel. The Israelis even had T-shirts made up for the game.
As it turns out, the MCpl in the Orderly room happened to be a graphic artist so he also designed this great T-shirt logo, reminiscent of Peter Puck, but with a blue UN helmet.
Of course we were all excited and arrived at the Bat Yam “Ice Palace” early and found a TV crew from Canada already there, waiting to interview some of the guys. The Canadian Ambassador, James Bartleman, came as did numerous Israeli VIPs, including representatives from the Israeli Olympic Association.
The “Palace” was not exactly the typical rink – it was more of a skating rink with glass panels, and low hanging ceiling lighting that made celebrating a goal a little risky! They even had to hang plexi-glass panels so the pucks would not break the glass. As it turns out, we happened to have some really good hockey players posted to the Golan, including probably a dozen guys who had previously played Base hockey in the Regionals and Nationals – guys like Chris Pilon, John Wolford, Daniel Stevens, and our goalie Greg Stewart.
It was a fun game to play, and that was our focus, but we did end up winning quite handily 20-2. The Israelis were good sports about it – they did not really care about the score as much as the fact that it really raised the profile of hockey in that region. I think it might have been Global TV that covered the game as well as the Globe and Mail, in their article posted below. We were a bit surprised however, to learn from our CO that somehow the Syrian liaison officer, a general, had also heard about the game. From that discussion it appeared that we had quite inadvertently … well, let’s just say he was not exactly disappointed with the results.