The Jewish Link and Drink Up would like to recognize Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School (RKYHS) senior Itai Merlin as this week’s Sportstar of the week. When asked about Merlin, RKYHS’s Athletic Director Rabbi Richard Kirsch told The Jewish Link, “Itai’s hockey success no doubt has been the end result of countless hours of practice and game learning. But Itai took it to the next level. Seeing the amazing accomplishments of Itai off the field is more gratifying than any game win. He has truly made an impact in people’s lives. During this pandemic, he donated vital medical supplies in our local community to the homeless, as well as across the globe, that will be delivered to healthcare facilities impacted by COVID-19.”
Itai, yasher koach on being recognized as Sportstar of the Week and your amazing three years as a Jaguar. Who are your role models and why?
My parents are definitely my role models. I aspire to emulate their hard work, dedication to their families and professions and care for others. My three younger siblings also help inspire me to act as a role model for them, as I strive to set a good example.
What is your favorite sport?
Hockey is easily my favorite sport. Growing up watching my dad heavily engrossed watching the Montreal Canadiens game on a Saturday night, I slowly began to fall in love with hockey and the Montreal Canadiens. As I matured, I began to finally understand the reasons why my dad—with his limited free time— gravitated to hockey. The sport provided a distraction from his everyday reality and the constant chaos of the real world. It is the most exciting, back and forth, fast paced and unpredictable game in the world. Additionally, in terms of playing sports, I have been playing travel soccer since the age of six.
What is your greatest sports accomplishment?
I like to remain humble but I guess I’d say my greatest sports accomplishment was probably when I won the finals MVP for the Kushner Cobras hockey teams, in both eighth and 10th grade. Additionally, winning the school soccer MVP was also very gratifying. I was glad to see my involvement in Livingston Travel Soccer pay off in school. However, maybe my most proud accomplishment would be when I helped coach my brother’s youth travel soccer team for two years. During COVID, I continued my coaching journey as a Zoom coach for lower classmen.
Who is your favorite athlete?
Carey Price is my favorite athlete and has been my favorite athlete for years now. As an avid hockey fan and goalie myself, I revere the franchise player of one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports. Being a goalie, the most pressured position in any sport, Carey Price has thrived in high pressure situations despite the ample pressure and adversity he endures on a daily basis. As one can tell by the memorabilia in my bedroom, Carey Price is someone I definitely look up to and hope to meet someday.
What is your pregame routine?
I just make sure to stay hydrated and have fun with the boys in the locker room.
What is your earliest sports memory?
At age 6 when I was beginning to play soccer, my mom forced me to play. I struggled with the pressures of the sport around unfamiliar faces. As I look back on those earlier memories today, those were pivotal moments in my life where my parents taught me the lessons of tenacity, dedication and hard work.
What is your weirdest sports memory?
My weirdest sports memory is probably when my school hockey team was attempting to get to a game and our bus driver was taking us on the wrong route with the belief that he was driving us to “India.”
What is your favorite sports memory?
Probably the triple overtime championship finals floor hockey game in 10th grade. It was one of the most exciting, nerve wracking and intense games I have ever been a part of. I thoroughly enjoy the competitive element of competing for championships in sports.
What are some of your favorite things to do when not playing sports?
My favorite things to do when not playing sports are to watch sports, blog about sports on my hockey website, hang out with family and friends—and I am currently learning to play the guitar.
What is the best thing about being a Sportstar?
The best thing about being a Sportstar is the fact that now my sister can’t claim that she was the only one in the family who won this award. While she is a great athlete herself, she now cannot gloat in front of me anymore.
The Drink Up Jewish Link Sportstar of the Week will receive a 5% discount on their next order @Drink Up, order with https://forms.gle/k8cjADWpMne9bPed7 or message Steve Gutlove 201 578 7425. Please send nominees for an upcoming Drink Up Jewish Link Sportstar of the Week to [email protected].