The Israel men’s team made history Saturday by winning the European Box Lacrosse Championships with a nail-biting 8-7 victory over the Czech Republic.
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The gold-medal finish in Turku, Finland, is Israel’s first in a team sport in the country’s 69-year history. Israel and the Czechs both entered the final with perfect 5-0 records. Fourteen countries competed in the championships, with host Finland defeating Germany to secure a bronze earlier Saturday.
In the final at the Gatorade Center, Jean-Luc Chetner led the blue and white with four goals and two assists, while Kyle Bergman scored three times. Bryan Hopper had one goal and two assists, while Zachary Pall, Kevin Harper and Adam Wolf each chipped in with an assist.
Zachary Higgins earned the win in goal with 41 saves, while Zachary Ornstein won 18 of 19 faceoffs.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, with the Czechs striking first on a Radek Skála score at 1:31. Israel burst into the lead with three straight goals to make it 3-1, before the Czechs tied it at 3. Neither team led by more than one goal from then on. The tally was 5-5 at halftime and 6-6 after three quarters.
Chetner gave Israel a 7-6 advantage with 10:18 remaining, scoring with a sidearm shot on a fast break. Pavel Dol answered back with 5:08 left, beating Higgins with a rocket. Moments later, Bergman caught Czech goaltender Jakub Mare off guard with an unexpected light outside shot for the game-winner.
Higgins made two big saves in the final minutes as the Czechs pulled Mare for an extra attackman. Defenseman Chris Friedman then scooped up a rebound off a save with 20 seconds left.
Rather than shoot at the empty net, the Israelis gave the ball to Chetner, who maintained possession until the clock ran out and Higgins met his elated teammates near mid-floor.
The finish marks continued success for the Israeli program, which finished second at last year’s European Lacrosse Championships in Budapest — an outdoor event — and fourth in the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Syracuse, New York.
The Israelis returned to Tel Aviv with some extra luggage. Chetner was named tournament MVP and first-team All-Europe; he led the 14-team field in goals (24), assists (17) and points (41). Higgins was awarded defensive MVP with an 84 percent save percentage; he and backup Andrew Copeland allowed just 29 goals in six games, good for an astonishing 4.83 goals against average.
Bergman and Ornstein were tabbed second-team All-Europe selections. Bergman registered 17 goals and 11 assists, and was exceptional when it mattered most, scoring 13 goals against top-six opposition in Ireland, England, Finland and the Czech Republic. Ornstein won 102 of 138 faceoffs in the tournament, a 73.9-percent showing.
Arnie Mazer, meanwhile, took home the European Lacrosse Federation’s Spirit of Lacrosse Award. The Tel Aviv-based Mazer, head coach of Ashdod LC, helped create the Bill Mazer Lacrosse Scholarship this year to support emerging Israeli athletes who have been tagged as strong prospects in the box game.