Written By Dylan Manfre and Evan Kamikow
Chelsey Goldberg was denied twice when she tried joining the Maccabi USA men’s hockey team in 2013 and 2017. It was not that she didn’t make the team, she was not allowed to even try out.
“It lit a fire under my a** to get a women’s team over to the Maccabiah,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg made compiling names of Jewish women’s hockey players her mission, and it was no easy task. She acknowledged the number of women’s hockey players was small. Add in a religious filter to that group, and it diminished the pool of players even more.
“I’ve always pretty much been the only Jew on my team, any one of my teams,” Goldberg said. “But there’s always, maybe, been a couple of other players that I’ve played with or against that I know are Jewish. And so I’ve added whoever I could think of off the top of my head to the list.”
Goldberg, 29, from Southern California, was responsible for the United States roster but needed to do it for two other countries as well. It’s not like the US can play itself. Three delegations is the minimum number of countries needed to form a division in the Maccabiah, the world’s second-largest sporting event.
The list she is referring to was created eight years ago and has grown exponentially as the 21st Maccabiah nears. She scoured the internet before Maccabi USA even named a head coach.
Goldberg was running her own start-up and needed a business plan to present to Maccabi World Union. She found names through social media, word-of-mouth and direct messages to people garnering interest and over time built a Rolodex of interested players. But she couldn’t do it all by herself. Goldberg got help from Devra Shorr Pulley, the co-chair of Maccabi USA hockey.
“We’ve been tag-teaming this whole project, and she’s obviously on the administrative side, so I can ask her any questions that came to my mind,” Goldberg said. “After eight years we finally got enough interest to field three teams.”
The US will be joined by Canada and Israel in the 21st Maccabiah. Once that benchmark was achieved, “all the stars just started to align.”
A Rough Patch of Ice
Goldberg was busy marketing her own skills during her collegiate career more than 10 years ago, all before she cultivated the Maccabi women’s hockey enterprise.
During her time at Northeastern in Boston, however, things didn’t go as planned right away. Goldberg broke both of her legs within a year and was out of hockey for four years. It was not until her junior season that she started playing again and much like she worked to build up the inaugural women’s hockey team for the Maccabiah, she reconstructed her own career from the bottom up.
In route to playing hockey with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (formly the Canadian Women’s Hockey League), Goldberg trekked more than 2,900 miles from her west coast home in California to Boston
Goldberg netted two short-handed goals in her eventual return to the ice, yet she was still unsure about if she was in the right spot of her career.
“I had so many thoughts of ‘Why am I doing this? My body hurts. I was always recovering but then training harder than I was before … to keep up with everyone else,” Goldberg said.
After persevering through so much to play the game she loves, it’s safe to say Goldberg was right to stick with it. Goldberg was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Hall of Fame, adding another award to an already storied career.
“It’s pretty crazy to be sharing an ice with the best players in the world,” Goldberg said. “It’s just an honor, every single day, to lace up skates and be teammates with Kendall Coyne and Hilary Knight and to share the ice with all these incredible hockey names.”
From sharing the ice with some of the biggest names in women’s hockey, Goldberg hopes she can use what she learned as she continues to pioneer the game at the 21st Maccabiah.
“I’m almost 30 years old now. I’ve been through a lot of physical adversity and mental challenges and whatnot. I don’t know if I have a year in mind that I’m going to retire but I know that I’m playing, still, to get this league going so that the next generation can have a place to play,” Goldberg said. “That mentality was also my mentality for Maccabi was to get this first inaugural women’s team over there to play which would then spread and be a domino effect for the years to come.”
Dylan Manfre is a recent graduate of Rider University and an incoming graduate student at the University of Maryland. Follow him on Twitter (@Dylan_Manfre11) and on Instagram (@ByDylanManfre)
Evan Kamikow is a rising senior at Indiana University. Follow him on twitter (@emkamikow) and on instagram (evankamikow).