METULA, Israel – Guy Carbonneau’s 18 NHL seasons produced three Stanley Cup Championships, three Selke Trophies and profound hockey acumen.
But a gold medal on the international stage remained elusive for the defensive specialist from Quebec never afforded the opportunity to represent Canada during his playing days.
But, that is no longer the case for the 53-year-old Carbonneau who led Canada’s hockey team to gold at the recently concluded Maccabiah Games (or so-called “Jewish Olympics”).
Canada defeated familiar foe USA 7-1 in the final of the open division at the games. Ukraine and Israel also fielded sides in the four-team tournament.
“Anytime you get a chance to get behind the bench, coach and represent your country it’s a thrill,” Carbonneau noted after the tournament.
“I love competition and never got the chance to play at the Olympics or World Championships. Whenever you get a chance to be part of Hockey Canada, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” added Carbonneau, who was coaching the Canadian U18 national team in 2010.
The Maccabiah Games are held every four years in Israel and are open to Jewish and Israeli athletes, promoting competition and the opportunity for participants to further explore Israel and Jewish history.
Hockey made its first and most recent appearance at the Maccabiah Games in 1997 but had a comeback in the 2013 Maccabiah Games.
The event took place in the northern Israeli city of Metula near the Lebanese border. Metula possesses the only full-sized ice rink in the country fittingly called the Canada Centre Ice Rink.
Canada also won the tournament in the junior division, while the United States claimed gold in the masters division.
Previous international coaching engagements for Carbonneau include serving as head coach at the 2010 IIHF U18 World Championship and assistant coach at the 2001 World Championship and at the U18 World Championship the same year.
Yet, Canada failed to medal in all three of Carbonneau’s experiences, while gold at the Maccabiah Games almost never materialized.
Legendary coach Mike Keenan was scheduled to be behind the bench for Canada until he took over duties for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL in mid-May.
“I got a call two months ago asking if I was interested,” Carbonneau explained. “They could’ve played it anywhere and I would’ve said yes. I really enjoy having the opportunity to travel and coach internationally.”
Not only did the tournament produce a long-awaited gold for Carbonneau, but it might have also rekindled his passion for coaching.
“I’d love to coach again. I’m passionate about working with players, but the situation must make sense,” said Carbonneau.
“It’s not a money thing. The lifestyle must make sense for me as well,” he added.
Currently, Carbonneau serves as an analyst for French-Canadian broadcaster RDS on hockey telecasts, a role he relishes due to the cerebral nature of watching and analyzing the game.
Someone entrenched in the game for so long offers a unique perspective on the future of the game both in terms of quality and expansion.
“Being in Israel, you notice how much the game is growing in non-traditional places. It’s a lot like my time in Dallas, or places like Phoenix or Los Angeles. It’s hot, you’re already sweating on the way to practice, but hockey is still being played there,” Carbonneau remarked.
Carbonneau went on to explain how the game at the youth level is constantly improving and how impressive it is to see hockey played in places like the Middle East.
He used Switzerland’s inclusion in the gold medal game at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship as a prime example of how countries not typically considered major hockey powers are now putting their stamp on the game.
Events similar to the Maccabiah Games and the inclusion of quality hockey characters such as Carbonneau will continue to drive the game into previously unchartered territories.