By Kaitlin Burch
Senior communication arts major Michael (Mike) Gennello has become the first import player to sign with the Israel National Hockey League.
Gennello, now 24, said he has been playing hockey for 14 years. He always knew he wanted to play after graduating college. Gennello said, “When I was in high school, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was that at some point we all die, and when you are laying in your final resting place thinking about everything you have done in life, you don’t want to be left with any regrets.
“Money, societal expectations, and other people’s opinions, are all irrelevant. Be a good person, but do what’s going to make you happy and take the rest of life as it comes. So for me, I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world, and I’ve always wanted to play hockey in other countries. So, to get a chance to do that, even in the smallest of leagues, was a chance I wasn’t going to let slip by,” he added.
Gennello said not being able to get on the ice for his senior year was “a huge struggle” for himself as well as his teammates. He said, “To have what could be your last chance to play your sport at a high level ripped away is a really, really hard thing to deal with mentally.” He said he was grateful to be given the opportunity to continue his career in hockey.
He added that being the 8rst import player signing for the Israel National Hockey League is a great feeling. The President of the Israel National Hockey Society and Co-commissioner of the League, Marc Brunengraber, said in a podcast interview with Gennello posted to YouTube, “The idea [of the league is] to get some of Israel’s best domestic players and mix them with strong, solid, import players like yourself [Genello]. It gives players a chance to play with guys in more developed hockey countries and allows the guys to stay in shape over the summer.”
FSU’s head hockey coach Michael Bailey said, “I was extremely happy for Mike when I heard the news that he would be extending his hockey career by playing in Israel. Not only is Mike extending his career, but he is doing it in another country where he will experience their culture both on and off the ice. This is a tremendous opportunity, no doubt.”
Gennello said playing hockey abroad is also an opportunity for him to obtain dual citizenship in Israel. He said he grew up in a religious Jewish household, so Israel was always a place that “fascinated” him. After visiting the country twice, Gennello said he is simply “amazed” with the country and culture.
He added, “You hear so much in the news about conflicts and fighting, but when you go in person and get to experience the country for yourself, you learn that so much of that is for TV ratings. Like everywhere, there are obviously a few bad apples, but the majority of people are overwhelmingly friendly and it’s awesome to experience a place with so much culture and history.”
Fellow senior hockey player Soren Colstrup said, “I saw a job listing through a hockey agency I was once a member of. The listing advertised for players interested in a chance to play hockey in Israel at the professional level. I knew my friend Mike was trying to play pro hockey and I also knew his brother was living in Israel – so it seemed natural to relay this option to him. He got in contact with the right people and it sounds like they are very excited to have him join the league.
“I’m happy Mike was able to make his dream a reality. He will do great and I wish him the best of luck in what I hope is a long and healthy career in professional hockey,” Colstrup added.
Coach Bailey said, “As a player, Mike was a joy to coach. He was definitely our energy guy – always rallying the team with his pep talks and his constant chatter. It was always fun to watch Mike as he played with a youthful passion and always ended up on the score sheet. He was a great teammate and always thought of others before himself.”
Gennello said he’s considering documenting his journey overseas via social media. He said he’s thought about starting a TikTok or Instagram account where he can share his experiences “playing and living in Israel in what is hopefully the post-pandemic world.”
Bailey added, “Mike will have a huge impact on his new team – his genuine passion for the sport of hockey coupled with his positive and upbeat personality. Team Israel is adding both a fine hockey player and even better person to their family.”