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Youths in the ice hockey training camp at Zayed Sports City have enjoyed the sport, once they have mastered staying on their feet.
Youths in the ice hockey training camp at Zayed Sports City have enjoyed the sport, once they have mastered staying on their feet.

Hot sport of ice hockey is cool with Abu Dhabi kids

Emirati youth are taking to the ice to play hockey at Zayed Sports City and, once they learn how to keep upright, are enjoying the game they say is "quick and exciting".

Twins Omar and Ahmed Mohamed Al Hamed have fallen in love with their new sport.

After a week of tumbling to the ice at Zayed Sports City (ZSC) they are now skating around the rink like experts.

The 13-year-old Abu Dhabi brothers joined almost 100 fellow Emirati schoolboys at the capital's summer ice hockey training camp at ZSC. And it has not taken the Al Ruwad Model School pupils long to get to grips with a game that only last month was alien to them.

"I feel really free when I'm out there on the ice on my skates," Omar said. "Ice hockey is just so quick and exciting. I don't feel like myself when I'm playing.

"We have only been playing for two or three weeks, and it's been amazing. I got interested because my dad took me to some games, so I came down to this training camp. I liked it right away so I am going to continue playing.

"Maybe this is something I can do really seriously when I get older. We both fell down a lot at the start, but it is great fun."

Ahmed admitted the physical aspect of the sport can be difficult to handle, but it has not put him off.

"It only took me one week to start really enjoying myself, even if it was a week of falling down," he said. "It does hurt at times, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. Omar and I are quite big, so that helps."

Omar is not the only young Emirati who is considering ice hockey as a career.

It is why the UAE Ice Hockey Association has attracted some top quality young coaches so they can make the country a future name in the world of ice hockey

One such coach is Kellin Carson, who has been in the country for just three weeks. He was at college in Finland when this opportunity came up. He did not even think twice about the move.

"The reason coming here really appealed to me was that, in ice hockey terms, it's a developing country and they are trying to get the sport started," said Carson, who grew up in Vancouver.

"Where else would be better? Canada doesn't need me to teach them about ice hockey, so why not go somewhere that needs my help.

"I am here to make a difference. This, for me, is the place to be.

"Everything happens so quickly. It's stunning to me. As soon as I saw this venue I knew I'd made the right decision. Training the kids like this is also getting the message out there that we have ice hockey in the UAE, even if it is 100F (38C) outside."

The 100 or so boys, aged from five to 13, have been quick to learn how to stay on their feet on the ice.

"We had them here in the first week and almost everyone was hanging on to the side as the skated around. Now none of them do," Carson said.

"I was five when my dad first took me on the ice, so a lot of these kids are not far behind. It's not as if they are all late starters.

"It's just an achievement for a desert country to have genuine hopes of making the World Championship ranks but the organisation here is superb and while it's going to take a few years, they have the money, resources and are willing."

Helping out this month is Faisal Saeed, a defensive stalwart for the UAE national side for the past 11 years, a time which culminated with him winning a bronze medal at this year's Asian Winter Games.

The 35-year-old GASCO Oil Company worker from Abu Dhabi can hardly believe where his chosen sport is now as he had to fly halfway around the world to get his first taste of it while at university in Denver.

"When I came back to the UAE there was ice hockey at ZSC, but it was only expats that played at that time," he said.

"Despite having enjoyed watching and playing a bit in the States, I never thought I would take it up when I got back home. But the expats started to teach me and other locals, and it really took off."

"It's great to see so many kids involved and most had no clue about ice hockey before they got here."

The sport was so new to many of the youngsters that some even had to ask how to score a goal.

"Ice hockey is still a big challenge here," Saeed said. "I was in Finland two years ago, doing some coaching, and in a country such as that one everybody plays the sport. So we are still a minority, although one which keeps growing."

And it is not only for the boys as the first women's team from the Emirates - the Abu Dhabi Storms - took part at the Asian championship in Hong Kong in May.

"This is a sport for everyone," Faisal said.

"That is one of the best things about it."

ncameron@thenational.ae

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