Eliezer Sherbatov is an Israeli professional Ice Hockey player. He is the captain of Israel national team that had just recently won the division 2B World Championships. He lives in Canada and has been playing for professional clubs in Europe, including in the KHL (the Eastern Europe equivalent of the NHL). We had the pleasure of getting together with him for an on-line interview from his home in Montreal, Canada. His story is truly inspiring, one of a role model for every athlete.
Eliezer, thanks so much for dedicating time for this interview. Before we deep dive into our usual questions where we seek to learn how top athletes achieve their results, could you give us an overview of your career, and how did you start playing Hockey?
My parents have immigrated to Israel from Moscow. A few years after I was born, our family moved to Canada. My dad is a big fan of hockey and wanted me to become a hockey player. He is a very smart guy, he always plans for the family. My mom was a former Russian skating champion. So at age six I started skating and at first I was really bad. But since my mom was my coach, soon enough people started calling me “the Russian rocket” - I started skating really fast. My mom still teaches skating, she has developed a unique Russian style power skating technique and many NHL players come to train with her. From that point on my career went very smoothly, I was always the top guy at my age group. I became known in the hockey world, and was asked to play for the national team. So this is how at age 13 I became the youngest ever player to take part in IIHF World Championships. I was happy and proud to play for Israel, and still am. But then, at age 14, I got seriously injured. I had a rollerblades accident and hurt my leg badly. I went through several surgeries and but my nerves were completely damaged and are not functioning below the knee. It’s called “drop foot” and it’s for life. I can’t walk without a brace. Doctors said of course the hockey is over, since If could hardly walk, how could I play? But my mom didn’t give up. We worked hard together to recover my ability to skate, until I could skate normally again. Since then our skating practices became a habit and we do it every summer till this day. Since I missed out that season I went to play for a short time for Metula in Israel and then returned to Canada. I was able to make it to the Midget AAA, which the best league for ages 15-17, and then to the QMJHL league which is the top league for ages 16-20. When I was 19, I went to play in France. I made it my goal to play in the KHL, the European version of the NHL. KHL is almost as good as the NHL, and the European style of hockey fits more my style of playing. Also, I had a Russian passport which by the rules back then was supposed to mean that I would not count as foregn players in the KHL. That would make it a lot easier to get in since there is a 5 foreigners limit in the KHL. But then the Russians changed the rules such that whoever plays for a non-Russian national team is considered a foreign player, and I had to face the tough competition of a foreign player spot. Despite that I was still able to make it and played in the KHL in HC Slovan Bratislava. I was the first Israeli to ever play in the KHL.
This is an amazing story that you were able to overcome such a severe disability and play hockey on such a high level. You are very strong and you have the legs of a weightlifter, is that what enabled you to compensate for the injury?
I had no choice. I was small, handicap, Israeli.. In a sense, it was good that I had such obstacles. My father always told me that if I start something I need to go for it till the end and not give up. I knew I needed to be stronger and faster than anybody. I needed to weigh more. So I worked very hard to have an athletic body, but not like that of a bodybuilder - also flexible and agile. I brought my weight up to 194 pounds and I’m only 5’7”. People would hear that I’m from Israel and they would laugh, but then see me on the ice and realize how fast and strong I am.
How does your daily routine look like?
During summer I need to build power. 2-3 times a week a combined traning of cardio and olympic lifting, 2 times a week plyometry, step on the ice at least once a week with mom, play games like badminton, squash, tennis, hand ice coordination stick handling, swim once a week, cardio swimming. During the season I’m on the ice everyday. The team has a conditioning coach, I talk to him about my needs. We do a team workout, but I do my own extra depending how many practices there are. During the season, the goal is to maintain what you gained during the summer, and we are a lot on the ice. Hockey game is very exhausting - you play one game and you need a good break. At the beginning it’s ok, but as the season goes on I try not to do too much especially during the playoffs. It’s my life. I am not slacking – even if its slacking one or few times times, this accumulates and becomes a lot and I can’t afford that. I dedicate my life to succeeding. I don’t really have a vacation. My vacation is just being at home with the family.
Do you have special training and nutrition methods?
As a professional athlete you’re supposed to know your body and you’re supposed to know what to eat and how to eat. It comes with experience. But there is nothing special. For me is just to eat as healthy as possible. Drink enough water. Good meal after practice. Get your carbs, protein, vegetable. It’s not rocket science.. For the physical workout you need the right program that is built specifically for you to achieve your goals.
What do you think about Hockey in Israel?
I haven’t been involved that much recently. I think there is a lot of potential, but there needs to be a structure. A lot depends on who leads the federation.There is a lot of building to do for the younger generation, getting sponsors, building rinks. The person who leads must be someone who cares, passionate about it and needs to dedicate his life to it, otherwise it’s not going to work. It’s actually a much tougher job that being the federation head of Russia for example, where everything is already set up. There has to be a structure with a league for every age group, so kids know what their process to the top looks like. Also more rinks are needed. I know there are some new people who are good, so for now it looks good.
What about the national team, you had just won division 2B World Championship, what does this mean? How far the team is from playing with the big teams like Sweden and Russia?
Yes we won 2B, so now we will compete in 2A. There is also 1B and 1A. All those divisions have 6 teams. Then there is the top league, this one has 16 of the best teams in the World. Most of the guys on the Israeli team are not professionals. There are some who are about to become professionals perhaps. I think if all Israelis played on the national team we would be worth 1B at least. Who are the other Israelis who are not on the national team? For example there are Daniel Erlich and the Eizenman brothers. Also, the government in my mind needs to put more funding. Guys are representing the country, and yet they are paying for their tickets.
What does a kid need in order to be on the path to becoming a professional hockey player? Can he grow up in Israel and still remain on the path to becoming a top player?
First, he needs to be on the ice everyday. I was on the ice for 6 hours a day since I was a kid and I barely made it. You need to dedicate your life to it. Then you need good structure in terms of teams and leagues in all ages, good rinks. Hockey is a sport that you love very fast, once a kid learns to skate he loves it, and it goes fast.
What’s next for you in terms of career?
My agent is talking with a couple of teams, KHL, Sweden and Germany. Will try to stay relevant and go from there. I still want to be the best. I am the type of player that plays with a heart and people like it. I will also continue to play in World Championships for Israel.
Eliezer, thanks again for talking to us, we wish you the best of luck in your professional career and in the national team. Hockey is a beautiful and an extremely popular sport worldwide - we hope more Israeli youngsters will follow your footsteps!
I’m glad to help, hope so too!