TURKU, FINLAND — The Israel men’s national team made history on Saturday night, earning the title of European Champions with an 8-7 win over Czech Republic at the European Box Lacrosse Championships at Gatorade Center.
The gold medal finish is Israel’s first in a team sport in the 69-year history of the country.
Israel and the Czechs both came into the final with perfect 5-0 records. 14 countries competed in the Championships with host Finland defeating Germany to secure Bronze earlier on Saturday.
In the final, Jean-Luc Chetner led the blue-and-white with four goals and two assists, while Kyle Bergman scored three times.
Bryan Hopper (one goal, two assists) also had a big evening while Zachary Pall, Kevin Harper and Adam Wolf each chipped in an assist. Zachary Higgins (60:00, 41 saves, 7 GA) earned the win in goal, while Zachary Ornstein won 18 of 19 faceoffs.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, with the Czechs striking first on a Radek Skála score at 1:31. Israel bursted into the lead with three straight goals to take a 3-1 advantage, but the Czechs’ answered back to tie the score at 3-3.
Neither team led by more than one goal from that point forward. The score was tied 5-5 at halftime and 6-6 after three quarters.
Chetner gave Israel a 7-6 advantage with a 10:18 remaining, scoring on a side-arm shot on the fast break. Pavel Došlý answered back with 5:08 left in the game, beating Higgins with a rocket to tie the score at 7-7.
Moments later, Bergman caught Czech goaltender Jakub Mareš off guard with an unexpected light outside shot for the game-winner.
Higgins made two big saves in the final minutes as Czech Republic pulled Mareš for an extra offensive player. Defenseman Chris Friedman was able to scoop a rebound off the save with 20 seconds remaining and grab possession for the Israelis.
Rather than shoot on the empty net, the Israelis got the ball to Chetner who was able to maintain possession and clock out the final seconds before meeting Higgins and his elated teammates near mid-floor.
The finish marks continued success for the Israeli program, which finished 2nd at last year’s European Field Championships in Budapest and fourth in the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Syracuse.
The Israelis travel to Tel Aviv today with some extra luggage. Chetner was named tournament MVP and first-team All-Europe; he led the 14-team field in goals (24), assists (17) and points (41). Higgins was awarded defensive MVP with an 84% save percentage between the pipes; him and backup Andrew Copeland allowed just 29 goals in six games; good for an astonishing 4.83 goals against average.
Bergman and Ornstein were tabbed second-team All-Europe selections. Bergman scored 17 goals and 11 assists, and was exceptional when it mattered most, scoring 13 goals against top-six opposition in Ireland, England, Finland and Czech Republic. Ornstein won 102 of 138 faceoffs in the tournament, good for a 73.9% win percentage.
Arnie Mazer was honored with the European Lacrosse Federation’s Spirit of Lacrosse Award. Mazer, a regular Israel masters player who is based in Tel Aviv and is the head coach of Ashdod LC, helped create the Bill Mazer Lacrosse Scholarship earlier this year to support the development of emerging Israeli athletes who have been identified as strong prospects to succeed in the box game.
Additional caps – Daniel Bialosky, Andrew Copeland, Matthew Flapan, Harrison Freid, Andrew Kruter, Dalton Lundy, Seth Mahler, Jacob Silberlicht, Benjamin Smith, Ari Sussman, Doug Utting