Most of us who play sports in high school do not expect to continue playing our sport on a competitive level after graduation and for sure not on a national U.S. team in an international tournament.
But … surprise! You can! Check out Chanan Liss, 41, who recently played on the U.S. National Ball Hockey team in the masters level (over 40 years old) International Street and Ball Hockey Federation (ISBHF) Tournament in Check Republic.
Ball hockey, more commonly known as floor hockey, is mistakenly thought of as a sport played in Jewish high schools and Jewish summer camps. In reality, ball hockey is one of the fastest growing sports across the U.S. Even the National (Ice) Hockey League Network is picking up on the popularity of ball hockey and sharing highlights from the U.S. National Floor Hockey Championships.
Locally, there are many opportunities for floor hockey lovers to play. In northern New Jersey there are weekly leagues for players as young as 16 years old. The season goes from April through June, and possibly through September if you qualify for the division and national championships.
Aside from having five players plus a goalie on the rink— instead of four players—and the rink being a bit bigger, ball hockey is the same as the floor hockey we are accustomed to.
Liss started playing ball hockey as a kid and never stopped. He first started playing in Camp Mesorah, as a camper and a counselor, and then for HANC in the Yeshiva League. In his mid-20s, he joined a local ball hockey league and has been playing on a championship winning team, made up of all former Yeshiva League players, ever since.
While eyeing the competition in the local league, Liss noticed players wearing Team USA Ball Hockey gear, and they informed him about the national ball hockey team. He was intrigued but unsure if he would be able to join because he is Shabbat observant. But he thought, why not take the shot.
He could not attend the first day of tryouts as it was on Shabbat, but the coach allowed him to come on Sunday. When Liss made the team, he was upfront with his coach about his observance level but held back from sharing with his team. For the next nine months, while still playing with his local team, Liss would join the team’s Zoom meetings and play in the weekend practice tournaments. He would not play in these tournaments on Shabbat but would join his team at the tournament on Sunday, earning him the nickname of “Sunday Mike.”
After missing a few of the team’s practice games because of Shabbat, Liss felt the need to explain to his team why he was “Sunday Mike” and not “Weekend Mike.” Liss said, “the response from the team was really amazing. They said we don’t care as long as when you’re here, you bring it.”
At the ISBHF Tournament, after a game against the Check Republic’s home team, Liss was awarded player of the game. One of his teammates, Bernie Richards, wrote about him, “I was impressed by his speed and skill … but I was even more impressed by his devout faith. He played for us, but he lives for something bigger.” Liss never felt he had the responsibility to be an advocate for the Jewish community. He went to play hockey. Through remaining true to himself and his beliefs he naturally evolved into an excellent accidental ambassador, earning the respect of his teammates.
“Although we didn’t do so well, we went 1-5, it was an amazing experience playing ball hockey at that high of a level against some really great competition,” Liss said. Liss credits his wife for enabling him to go away for a week to play ball hockey and crosses his fingers that he’ll get a chance for a repeat performance. He hopes to make the national team again and play in the upcoming 2023 ISBHF Tournament to be held in America.
Yeshiva League floor hockey alumni are unique. They fascinate the U.S. Ball Hockey League. The Yeshiva League is the only high school level floor hockey league in the U.S. Although most of Liss’ teammates have been playing ball hockey for many years, none of them played in a league similar to the Yeshiva League.
High school floor hockey players, male and female, USA Ball Hockey is looking for you! The local USA Ball Hockey leagues, as well as their national teams, are looking to recruit top level players. Having familiarity with the rules and experience playing floor hockey gives players a real leg up. Liss said, those who join “will have a chance to play ball hockey against some really elite competition. And after high school, you don’t have to stop playing if it is what you really love doing.”
When he isn’t playing ball hockey, Liss is a comptroller at Sotheby’s auction house and lives in Bergenfield with his wife and five kids. You can reach out to Liss for more information on how to join the league, [email protected].
Danielle grew up in Teaneck, and made aliyah to Jerusalem following her graduation from Rutgers University. Danielle teaches English at colleges in Jerusalem and has been involved in both formal and informal education for a variety of organizations. Danielle believes that important life skills and lessons are often not ones learned in the classroom, but can be learned from team sports.