After losing 70 percent of his Achilles tendon and receiving 11 screws in his heel and one plate in his foot, it was unlikely that Ben Israel was going to continue his hockey career. Israel started playing hockey at the age of six after his uncle suggested he play as a way to release his rambunctious energy. “I was an aggressive child to say the least,” Israel said.
Because he already knew how to skate, he picked up hockey quickly and became one of the better players. “When you’re younger—up until about the age of 13—you’re not allowed to hit in hockey,” Israel said. “I was always the kid getting penalties for checking.” Israel also played soccer, basketball, and baseball growing up, but when he finished eighth grade, he quit all other sports to focus on hockey.
After his junior year of high school, Israel was preparing to leave his home city of Detroit to play junior hockey in Vermont, but a month before he was to leave his circumstances changed dramatically. “Along with my childhood aggression, I liked to push the boundaries a little bit,” Israel said. Being the adrenaline junkie that he was, Israel attempted to jump off the roof of his house into his pool. “It was something I had done thousands of times before, but I guess I was a little too lackadaisical this time,” he said. This laziness resulted in what Israel’s doctor said to be ‘too many breaks to count.’ Israel had obliterated his heel bone.
After the surgery, which included 11 screws and an inserted plate, Israel was told the recovery would be at least four to six months. Defying odds, Israel played his first game just four months later for Detroit’s local travel hockey team. It was during this season that Israel got into the best shape of his life. But just ten months later—during the first game on the first day of a junior hockey camp in Ontario—Israel lost the majority of his Achilles tendon. “I had the puck, I tried to make a spin move off a guy, spun off of him and in a fluke accident the guy stepped on my Achilles tendon with his skate,” Israel said. “He eviscerated nearly 75 percent of my Achilles tendon with his skate.”
Not only was this injury serious, but it happened on the same foot that had been repaired so recently. Ten months after his first surgery, Israel found himself getting operated on again. “At this point it was unlikely for me to come back,” Israel said. “But my doctor, well, he was my Jesus for my hockey career.” Again, Israel recovered enough to play competitive hockey. Despite being drafted to the USA travel team, Israel’s inability to walk ruined that opportunity.
So instead, three months after his second surgery, Israel hobbled into a BHSL camp outside of Vancouver. “I couldn’t make it through a whole practice because I couldn’t be on my foot for an hour—that was too long,” Israel said. “But I was able to play games because you’re only on for 30-45 seconds at a time and then you can sit down for a little bit.” Because the camp was mostly games, Israel was able to have a good showing, and that’s how he ended up playing for Chilliwack in British Columbia.
In Chilliwack, Israel was in and out of the lineup. Right before the trading deadline, his coach was constantly on the phone trying to find a player that would help propel their team into the playoffs. “Even when we were on the ice he was on the phone trying to make trades,” Israel said. “So everyone knew something was going to happen.”
On the day of the trade deadline, Jan. 10, Israel was in the locker room getting ready for practice. “I have one skate on and my shirt is halfway over my head when my coach walks into the locker room and tells me to come to his office,” Israel said. “He told me that he wanted me to sign a piece of paper because he had decided to trade my rights to Coquitlam Express.” Israel had no idea he was getting traded, but just a few hours later he found himself on a bus with his packed bags. Two days later he was playing his first game for his new team.
“Hockey is a business and life is a business,” Israel said. “Even at the college level—they can’t trade you, but if you don’t perform well, you don’t play. That’s the way it is.”
Despite the ups and downs Israel has faced throughout this hockey career, he still has a love for the game. “Hockey is a business, but it’s also my playtime,” Israel said. Hockey is what he loves and he wouldn’t be here committing his time to it if he felt differently. “People always say they want to have a job that they love and that’s definitely my goal,” Israel said. “I want to work my way up to play in the NHL one day.”