This is the first in a series of profiles of Minnesota athletes who are competing for Team USA in the Maccabiah Games – also known as “the Jewish Olympics” – in Israel from July 12-26.
Drew Kuretsky wasn’t part of a great hockey program as a high school student in Mendota Heights, but she is good enough that she’s part of two trailblazing experiences – as a member of the first Arcadia University hockey team in Pennsylvania, and then this summer playing in the first women’s competition for Team USA at the Maccabiah games in Israel.
“I grew a lot more as a player just because of the competition that we were playing against and playing with every day in practice,” said Kurtesky. “We did a lot better for our first season than a lot of people thought we were going to.”
Kuretsky got connected to Maccabiah thanks to an email that went to every Divsion I and Division III women’s college hockey coach sent by Joe Bertagna, the former Hockey East conference commissioner on behalf of Justin Levin, who is coaching the women’s team in Israel.
“I’ve never played hockey outside of the United States, and with it being the first year (at Maccabiah), I’ve almost been through that with my hockey team here,” she said. “To be able to connect hockey with Judaism is also amazing just because I’ve never been able to do that. I still haven’t fully processed it just because of how it was such a random email. Like it really just like fell into my lap.”
Kuretsky’s high school stats weren’t overly impressive; she had a goal and five assists across four seasons playing for Two Rivers (formerly Henry Sibley)/St. Paul co-op high school hockey team. She bettered those numbers in one season at Arcadia.
“I had so much fun and I loved everyone I played with, but we were not very good,” she said. “And when I was first starting to look at schools, I knew I wanted to play hockey.”
Kuretsky was set on staying in the midwest, but she got a call from Arcadia’s coach, former Princeton star Kelsey Koelzer.
“I definitely think I chose here over other schools, because of the opportunity that it’s a brand new program,” she said. “We basically played with four defensemen, I got more ice time as a freshman than probably any other freshmen that goes into like a normal team that’s played for seasons and seasons.”
Kuretsky’s father, David, said that playing at a smaller, Division III school was a better route for his daughter.
“Even though she loves the game of hockey, she didn’t want it to ruin her college existence,” David Kuretsky said. “I think it was the smartest choice for her to make to take that route. And as a parent, that was a very well thought out plan on her part. Yeah, there’s prestige in saying, ‘Hey, I’m a (Division I) athlete or whatever. She’s not about that.”
Kuretsky is one of three Arcadia players who are competing for Team USA this summer, and one of them is her defense partner, Bella Gershtein. The third from Arcadia is Ashley Walden, from Maryland. Another on defense with Minnesota ties is Hannah Gold, who is from Mequon, Wis., but played at collegiately at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.
“They’re all fairly stable solid defensemen that I think are going to add depth,” said Levin. “You win through the middle of the ice.”
In watching film of Kuretsky’s play at Arcadia, he praised her ability to play in every situation, calling her a “stabilizing force on defense.”
“She’s played up a man, down a man and five on five. I don’t think we can have too many good defensemen,” he said. “And Drew wears a letter for Arcadia (as the team’s alternate captain), and that speaks volumes. I’m looking for good leadership from her.”
David Kuretsky said that Drew’s charisma brings teammates together.
“I’m not patting her on the back because she’s my kid. I’m patting her on the back based on [having] coached her in softball for years,” he said. “And I’ve watched her through varsity volleyball, varsity softball and varsity hockey. Every coach says she just has that natural ability to bring her teammates together in one direction.”