Taken From http://www.torontosun.com/
BY JOHN MATISZ, QMI AGENCY
For a fleeting moment last August, David Levin’s two worlds collided head-on. Sirens blared through an Israeli street on which Levin and his brother Mike were playing.
War had interrupted a bit of hockey knowledge being bestowed on Mike by his older sibling. The startled brothers, six years apart in age, immediately postponed the lesson and hustled into the basement of their house, out of harm’s way.
“You can hear the bomb,” said Levin, recalling the scene on Monday in the comfort of his relatives’ North York home.
“You have 45 seconds to get into the shelter. I feel like I was more scared than him.”
That sequence played out during Levin’s first visit back to his home town of Zoran, Israel, since moving to Toronto on a student visa. Only 12, he left behind Mike and his parents in the summer of 2012 to pursue a professional hockey career.
Levin, born in Tel Aviv, about 70 kilometres northwest of the holy capital of Jerusalem, wants to seize the Canadian dream.
“Every day I’m waking up in the morning and thinking about hockey, working hard to get to the NHL,” he said, “so I can move my family here.”
On Friday, Levin will pose for photos with a Sudbury Wolves jersey as part of an introductory news conference. Cleared by officials at the national level, he has been deemed eligible for Saturday’s OHL priority selection rather than its import draft.
Believe it or not, a 15-year-old from Israel is about to be selected first overall in a Canadian junior hockey league’s domestic draft.
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Ice hockey was a far-away concept — both geographically and in his mind — for the first decade of Levin’s life.
He skated only a handful of times prior to stepping on Canadian soil. Rinks, of course, are not in abundance in Israel, a country bordered by Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.
Levin, who played for the AAA minor midget Don Mills Flyers this past season, excelled at inline hockey as a youngster. Overseas, he received MVP honours at several tournaments growing up, sometimes practising three times a day.
Inline is a different version of the sport and Levin played it in a different part of the world. Regardless, it still was a labour of love.
“It was a really big part of my life. More than school,” Levin laughed. “I always had a stick in my hands. If practice was cancelled or something, I’d still stickhandle, practise my moves.”
There are no guarantees in hockey, in life. Going first overall in the OHL draft doesn’t mean a thing if player development halts.
In the days, months and years he’s lived in a traditional ice-hockey market, it appears Levin has slowly begun setting the table for a potential NHL career.
The athlete gene, coupled with an upbringing based on a strong work ethic, certainly gave him a head start.
Levin’s Latvian-born dad Pavel, now a travelling hockey instructor in Israel, is a former pro soccer player. His mother Lena, born in Russia, runs a spa.
The value of hard work apparently was not lost on their eldest boy, who has grown to be 5-foot-10 and 162 pounds.
“I think his dad was pretty hard on him and definitely made him accountable,” Flyers head coach Lindsay Hofford said. “If you’re going to do something, work your hardest at it and do it right.”
This past season, Levin recorded 39 goals and 80 points in 55 games while wearing No. 71 for Don Mills. Scouts say smarts and slick hands have paved the way for a smooth ride as Levin transitions from non-contact inline to ice hockey.
“Dave’s ability to control the puck in traffic situations is as good as anyone I’ve ever seen,” Hofford said. “I’ve seen him score goals where he’s gone around every single player on the team, those kind of YouTube-sensation goals.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the right winger’s skating ability is above average and “not anything he needs to work on,” according to an OHL scout.
“He’s very tough to play against. You’ve got to keep an eye on him at all times,” said the scout, using “elusive” and “shifty” to describe Levin’s on-ice demeanour.
Although Levin will be the first player taken on Saturday, the draft lacks a true headliner, such as Jakob Chychrun last year, Connor McDavid in 2012 and 2011’s Aaron Ekblad.
“The draft doesn’t really have a player you would consider a front runner, like some of the ones in the past,” said another OHL scout, “but it’s a pretty deep draft from picks 1-20.”
Levin won’t be the first out-of-province player to go in the No. 1 spot. Exhibit A: Chychrun, who hails from the nontraditional market that is Florida.
What sets Levin apart, what makes him a truly special case, is his exotic background.
Florida may not be a hockey hotbed, but at least it has the resources.
“I don’t know if he really knows (much about) the draft or comprehends it,” Hofford said of Levin. “Other guys, they’ve grown up around it, have brothers and friends who have gone through it, maybe watched the (NHL) draft on TV.
“For him, it’s all so new.”
It turns out parachuting into hockey stardom can’t save you from draft-week anxiety.
“I can’t sleep at night,” Levin said. “I still can’t believe it, that I’m the first overall (pick).”
When Levin was initially approached in 2012 by ARC Sports Group, an agency with clients such as Calgary Flames blue-chipper Sam Bennett, “Hello” and “Bye” were the only English words he could mutter.
“He’s a pretty brave kid in a lot of ways,” Hofford said. “Not a lot kids are capable of even moving here and trying to face their dream.”
Levin has attended the Hill Academy in Vaughan, a private high school focused on pumping out elite athletes, for the entirety of his short Canadian experience.
Hofford, also the director of scouting for the OHL’s London Knights, runs The Hill’s hockey program. He, along with his wife Vickie, have provided Levin with another set of parental figures.
Living in Richmond Hill — where his aunt Alla and uncle Yafim were living at the time — Levin spent the 2012-13 season on the South Central Coyotes, a local AAA squad.
A season later, with his family moving to North York in part to fall within the boundary lines of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, Levin was starring for Hofford’s Flyers.
Hofford has coached hockey superstars Corey Perry and Rick Nash, as well as Mitch Marner, a potential top-five pick in this summer’s NHL draft.
Together, Levin included, the elite players all share a “special” trait, Hofford said.
“They are fearless with the puck.”
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Indeed, an Israeli teenager has found himself at the top of the 1999-born group of OHL-eligible players following just three seasons of ice hockey.
In a much more pleasant edition of colliding worlds, Levin’s family visited Canada in March to soak up the OHL Cup.
Levin scored twice and added seven assists in six games — tying him with four others for the tournament lead – while the Flyers lost in the final.
The real thrill came off the ice.
“My mom was surprised how different I was,” Levin said with a smirk. “I’m starting to look like a man, be myself.”
His brother Mike, whom he guided to safety last time the two saw each other, made an astute observation.
The next release of EA Sports’ NHL video game will include an Israeli-born-and-raised Sudbury Wolves rookie that he’ll surely recognize right away.
“He said, ‘I can play you,’ ” Levin said.
Believe it or not.