In some ways, Newton teenager Ziv Deener-Chodiker is an average kid. An alum of JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School, Gann Academy and Camp Ramah, he’s a center on The Rivers School hockey team and hopes to go to Williams College next year, where he plans to study computer science and economics. But, first, he’ll head to Israel this summer as a player at the Maccabi Games—essentially the Olympics for young Jewish athletes.
Congratulations on making the U.S. Maccabi hockey team! For those who don’t know: Could you explain how big a deal this is?
The way I put it: It’s like the Jewish Olympics. It takes place in Israel every four years. I think there are close to 80 countries going, and they have the same sports as the Olympic Games.
Did you try out? How did you get chosen?
I just got an email out of the blue saying: “Congratulations on your selection to the U.S. Men’s Maccabi team!” It’s pretty exciting.
What sort of training is involved? I’m guessing the team has people from all over the country, so how do you practice?
I haven’t been given a specific schedule yet, but I would assume we have a training camp at some point just so the guys can all get together. It’s people from across the country, so, obviously, we can’t practice every week.
When did you start playing hockey?
I was probably 3 years old in my backyard the first time I was on skates. Ever since then, I played for my town in Newton. I transferred over to some of the club teams with the Boston Junior Eagles. And then, my freshman year, I was at Gann Academy. I was getting recruited to a couple prep schools. My family and I decided to pursue this. I made the switch and ended up going to The Rivers School in Weston. That’s where I’m at right now. I’ve been playing here for four years.
What would you say to families who are considering hockey? I know it’s a big commitment. I have friends whose kids play hockey, and they’re up at 5 in the morning.
It definitely is a lot of time and a lot of commitment. But there are different levels. When I was younger, when I was playing town, there were a lot of early mornings. But I just loved it so much. I loved my teammates and the game. I had really great coaches. There’s a lot of training involved outside the rink, every summer with workouts, some extra stuff. You definitely have to love it, because it is a big time commitment. But that can be different for each level and each kid. There’s not one right path.
How many hours a day do you practice?
Well, with school, we have practice or a game every day of the week. So, let’s say an hour-and-a-half a day.
Do you want to play professionally? What’s your ultimate goal?
I think college will be where my real competitive career ends. It’s Division III. Most people who play professionally play Division I, or they don’t even go to college at all. I want a good balance with academics and athletics.
What are you most excited about for the Maccabi Games?
I mean, honestly, just having the opportunity to be in Israel and to play hockey is pretty cool in itself. And I’m really excited to meet all the guys. I’m excited to have a good run there. It’s going to be an awesome experience to meet people from around the world and get to play hockey in a country that I love so much. I’ve been to Israel twice already.
Is there a connection between hockey and Judaism? You don’t hear much about Jewish hockey players.
Yeah. I think there’s a growing Jewish presence in the hockey community, and it starts with us as young kids. And then you see these outliers who make it to the NHL. There’s a player on the Edmonton Oilers who went to a Jewish high school similar to Gann Academy. I think it’s growing. And it’s pretty cool, having this opportunity where you have a group of guys who have all been through the same type of experience growing up, playing hockey and being Jewish. I think it’s cool how we all share the same story.
You don’t need to know yet, but any idea what you want to do after college?
My friends and I always joke around about starting some type of startup together. We’re not sure exactly what yet!