Ice hockey player Eliezer Sherbatov’s life is anything but normal, between immigration, disability and war, and that’s exactly why he wanted to tell his story in a book.
The Russian-Israeli Quebecer collaborated with Toronto-based author Anna Rosner, who had previously signed biographer of former National League player Jamie Leach.
Listen to Eliezer Sherbatov’s full interview with La Dose in the player above.
In this book, Sherbatov tells of all the sacrifices his parents had to make in order to finally settle in Quebec. He comes from a Jewish family in the Soviet Union and was born in Israel. He had to flee the country because of the war and ended up in Canada as if he had been destined to play ice hockey.
“It’s a book with so many adventures, so many obstacles, but not just for me. It’s for my family too,” he explained to the podcast “La Dose” on QUB radio.
A future Guy Lafleur?
One of those obstacles was customs. His parents spoke neither English nor French, but his father, through a translator, made it clear to border officials that he and his family wanted to become Canadians.
“My father said, ‘Because I want my son, my youngest, to play like the number 10 for the Montreal Canadiens. As my father explained to me, the customs officer, who was a Quebecer, was transferred,'” Sherbatov said.
Upon arriving in the LaSalle neighborhood, the newcomers received help from the Jewish community and quickly put young Eliezer on his skates.
“In the beginning, when I got on the ice, my father wasn’t very happy. I wasn’t the Guy Lafleur he imagined,” he continued, laughing.
His mother, who gave free figure skating lessons to Russians, turned her boy into an elite skater, who later made a career out of it.
“My parents never really spoke to me about the war, immigration, how difficult it was for them. They are such humble people. They did it because they had to. They had a family and had no other choice,” he argued and was glad to have learned more about her in the twenty interviews with Anna Rosner.
An emotional season in Poland
After lugging his bags to Kazakhstan, Slovakia and Latvia, Sherbatov signs a 2020-2021 one-year deal in Poland with Unia de Oswiecim, a town of 41,000 people less than two kilometers from the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“I used to live right next to the small river [Soła] and I saw the concentration camp. It creates such a big one buzz, that the captain of the Israeli national team plays in Oswiecim. I got a lot of applause, but also a lot of criticism.”
“There are high-ranking rabbis who said I was a traitor and on the contrary a proud Jew,” explained the Quebecer. Despite the heavy criticism, Sherbatov is convinced that he made the right choice by moving to Poland for one season.
The last chapter
It’s impossible to ignore the latest chapter in the epic story of Sherbatov, who fled Ukraine in turmoil earlier this year. From Mariupol to Poland, he overcame the dangers of the road to return home to his loved ones.
“I had never met my boy who was born in November. […] Playing with a disability is really ‘tough’ but not seeing my son and maybe not surviving a war after starting a hockey season is inhuman,” he said.
“The journey is over. I decided that I needed to “focus” on myself with the trauma. I see pros to get through these times. I have a lot of ups and downs, and I need my loved ones,” recognized the one who now plays with the Marquis de Jonquière of the North American Hockey League (LNAH).
A handicap that needs to be overcome
If this work is in French “Sherbatov. The Boy Who Wanted to Play Hockey’, the English title ‘My Left Skate’ makes direct reference to the handicap Eliezer has struggled with since childhood.
After an inline skating accident, he was diagnosed with drop foot, meaning he has lost sensation below the knee.
“I don’t have the muscles to hold my foot, so I wear a prosthetic. It’s supposed to keep my foot at 90 degrees. That’s also why we made this book; because I’ve been on one leg since I was 17 play,” he said.
Let’s say it’s not ideal for a hockey career, but thanks to his mother, he learned to skate differently.
The 31-year-old had to take a three-year hiatus before joining Midget AAA to practically learn to play again, but that didn’t stop him from finally making the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2009. He then made a career on the other side of the Atlantic, including France, Kazakhstan, Slovakia and Ukraine.
– “Sherbatov. The Boy Who Wanted to Play Hockey” was published by Editions Hurtubise on Wednesday.
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