The first-ever Israeli National curling team just completed a miraculous run of seven victories at the European C Championships to take home a silver medal and qualify for the European B Championships.
As could be expected when talking about curling, it all started in Canada. After over a year of searching Israel and the World for the best Jewish curlers, the Israeli Curling Federation fielded its first ever National Curling Team in Holland this past week when they competed in the European C Group Curling Championships.
The team was formed after an invitation-only tryout in Minnesota for around 20 male curlers. The group of curlers was evaluated by Terry Braunstein and Ray Turnbull, both hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, the curling capital of North America.
Braunstein, known as the best Jewish curler of all time, and his good friend and former teammate Turnbull were Canadian national champions in 1965 and went on to be one of the youngest teams to represent Canada at a World Championship that year. While both are in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame as curlers, Turnbull was a curling broadcaster for The Sports Network (TSN) for over 35 years. “Their involvement in the Israeli Curling Federation comes from a deep love for the game of curling, their own long friendship, and a love for Israel”, stated Alex Tripolsky, President of the Israeli Curling Federation.
The five players Braunstein and Turnbull selected to represent Israel include two Israeli-born brothers who are students living in Virginia (Gabriel and Gilad Kempenich ages 18 and 22), an Israeli-born engineer living in Toronto (Yuval Grinspun, 35), a child of Israeli parents living in Montreal (Adam Freilich, 21) and one new immigrant from Detroit (Jeff Lutz, 30).
The team practiced and played together for the first time at the end of September in a three-day training camp in Winnipeg, Canada. The training was run by newly appointed coach Calvin Edie (also a Winnipeg native) and he also entered the team in a World Curling Tour event in Winnipeg before they departed for the European Championships taking place in Holland.
“This is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and it was great meeting the guys in Winnipeg, doing some team bonding over the course of the three day training and then facing off against some of the best competition in Canada.,” Edie said.
“It was an excellent tune up for the European C Group Championships over in Holland.” The newly formed Israeli National Team lost four out of their five games in Winnipeg but there was still a glimmer of hope that something big could happen with the team.
Soon after their tune up in Canada the team travelled to Holland to face a field of 10 other curling nations, all vying for the top two spots in the C group, which then allows them to move up to the B group. The B group tournament will be held at the same time as the A Group European Curling Championships in Switzerland this November. Besides Israel, the ten countries competing in the C group included Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
The Israeli team lead by skip Adam Freilich started off the tournament by losing to the eventual first place team, Belgium, but they came back that night to defeat Belarus.
They went into the second day with a record of 1-1, but then lost the next two games to Ireland and Serbia, dropping to 1-3. But they didn’t lose hope. “There were certainly some strong curling teams in the C group with years of international experience but we had a lot to play for, we were ready,” said Freilich. The team then rolled off seven straight victories, won the silver medal, and secured a place in the European B Championships.
The European B Group curling championships consists of 16 teams and will be held in Champerey, Switzerland November 21-29.