ABU DHABI // The UAE's preparations for a first appearance in the Under 18 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia will slide into gear on Saturday with a day-long training session at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink.
Matti Fagerstrom, the coach, said the players will be put through their paces every Saturday until the championship, which will be staged in the Emirates in April.
"We may play more games and draw up a more intensive training programme as the championship gets closer," said Fagerstrom, who arrived early last year to take charge of the senior team.
He is no longer in that role as the national team do not have a permanent coach, although Belarusian Yuri Faikov, the coach of the Abu Dhabi Storms and the national team coach from March 2001 to December 2008, is likely to be given that job.
Fagerstrom has instead been given the task of taking the sport forward at grass-roots level as a full-time employee of the Abu Dhabi Ice Sports Club, the governing body for the sport.
The Finn is in charge of the two Abu Dhabi teams - the Storms and Shaheen - in the Under 20 Emirates Hockey League (EHL), which has been rescheduled for the third time and now set to start on January 14.
It was first scheduled to start in October, then November, and even the December 10 date was cancelled. According to Fagerstrom, the reason for the league being put back is because of a shortage of available ice time.
"The delay is not a worry because we want to create a good first impression and start the competition in the best possible manner," he said. "The league would be the ideal preparation for the players, particularly those in the UAE national team. The league plays a very important part in the players' overall development.
"Each team will play 14 matches as per the recommendations laid down by the IIHF.
"The important thing for us now is to start the league and finish the league. The dates are not important as long as we can play the league. And beginning in January up to May, we can run the junior league without any interruptions."
Mohammed Aref Al Jachi, the UAE national team defender and a member of the Ice Hockey Federation's technical committee, said although the sport has been on the rise, they still have to manage with just three ice rinks in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai.
"There are plans to build a couple more ice rinks but they are still in the planning stages," Al Jachi said. "The demand for ice time has grown rapidly for both, hockey and skating."
The U20 EHL is made up of four teams, the Storms and Shaheen, the Al Ain Theebs and the Sandstorms from Dubai.