DUBAI // Ron Murphy, the captain of the Dubai Mighty Camels, has pitched his team as the favourites to win the best-of-three Emirates Ice Hockey League (EHL) finals against the Al Ain Vipers, which start tonight. It is the culmination of the first season of the national league, and Murphy is expecting a tight match at Al Nasr Leisure Land.
"It should be a great game. The Vipers are a really good team and it'll be a tight match, they've picked up a few new players and are improving all the time," he said. Murphy's side have first-hand experience of the Al Ain team's progress, having seen the Vipers end their 10-game unbeaten record in January. That defeat was one of just two losses the Camels suffered in the 16-game regular season. And after destroying the Abu Dhabi Storm 8-4 in the semi-final, Murphy - who has a full squad available - is confident his side will triumph.
"We've sat out a couple of players recently and we'll have a full complement of our best players available. "If it was one game you never know, but in a best-of-three our overall strength in depth should prevail," he said. "We're aiming to get on their goalie [Michael Jabri-Pickett] right from the start. A couple of early goals will be important because he grows in confidence the longer he keeps a clean sheet. They have good defence, but overall the teams match up really well."
Having seen his side come from 3-0 down to edge the Abu Dhabi Scorpions 6-5 in their semi-final, Ahmed Hennawi, the Vipers captain, warned his team - who finished the season with 10 wins, four losses and two draws - should not be written off. "Everyone thought Murphy's guys would walk the league, so we're relaxed. We've shown we can beat them and have nothing to lose: the pressure is on the Camels," he said.
"We won't mark anybody, we'll play our game and let them play theirs. But depending on who's playing, their goaltending might be exploitable, we'll see. "At the start of the season we were conceding lots of early goals, but we're a totally different team now. "We're playing well, working for each other and we haven't lost a game in 2010. The Camels are strong in every position but we have the guys to match them."
With the sides travelling to Al Ain on Monday for game two, Hen-nawi is eyeing an opening away win which would hand the Vipers the chance to clinch the EHL's inaugural season on home soil. The third game, if required, is scheduled for Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi venue a week from today. "We'll set up more defensively because game one's at their rink," added Hennawi. "We know our strategy and they might be the top team, but we're the team with the most heart. On paper, they look favourites, but we're the hottest."
Tonight's match starts at 8.15pm. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org