Penn State Hockey’s Matt Mendelson To Compete In 2017 Macabbi Games
Next summer, men’s hockey forward Matt Mendelson will board a plane to Israel with a different set of teammates, new faces save for a goalie he met in juniors and a coach who once recruited him. He’s going somewhere he has never been to do something only two other Nittany Lions have done.
A curiosity for his culture’s heritage and a passion for the game he plays combined for a serendipitous opportunity. Mendelson is competing in the 2017 Macabbi games — often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics” — for Team USA.
Mendelson said he had always wanted to go to Israel, and a talk with former Penn State iceman and Macabbi participant Jacob Friedman inspired him further.
“Friedman had nothing but great things to say about it [the games] not just from a hockey standpoint, but from a life experience standpoint,” Mendelson said. “I talked to him a lot about it and he said it was a must-do.”
The selection process usually involves a tryout, but it was more of a recruiting process for Mendelson. He was at Penn State during tryouts and couldn’t attend, but the college hockey world is a small one. Greg Gardner, head coach of Team USA, recruited Mendelson for Princeton when he was an assistant coach for the Tigers (another link in the Princeton-Penn State college hockey connection). When putting together his 2017 Macabbi team, he knew of Mendelson’s Jewish heritage and recruited him once again, this time successfully.
The quadrennial games are among the five largest sports gatherings in the world and they’re always held in Israel a year after the Olympics. The sheer number of participants could be daunting, but Mendelson is confident that Penn State hockey will have him prepared. More than anything, he just seems pumped.
“The fact that I’ll be able to play hockey and take the trip of a lifetime is a no-brainer for me…I’m really excited for the first time in my life be in a locker room of all Jewish people and get to meet other Jewish college hockey players.”
If you’ve ever wanted to get some Penn State gear printed in Hebrew, this is your chance.