The destiny of the Emirates Hockey League crown is firmly in the hands of the Abu Dhabi Storms as the season nears its conclusion.
The Storms stole the initiative from the Dubai Mighty Camels with a 6-4 victory over their title rivals this week and they now only need to win their two remaining games to clinch the championship.
The Abu Dhabi club still have to play their city rivals, the Scorpions, and the Al Ain Vipers, but Yuri Faikov, the coach, said: “We still have two games but I guess the hardest part is behind us after we beat the Camels.”
The Storms are now reaping the rewards of signing Faikov as their full-time coach in the summer.
The 42-year-old Belarusian led them to victory in the international division of the Land of Smiles Hockey Classic in Bangkok in November and they are now on the verge of finishing the top team in the Emirates Hockey League regular season.
“It has been a battle between the Storms and the Camels all the way through, and the last game virtually was the decider,” Faikov said later.
Kellin Carson was the Storms’ hero on the night with four goals and two assists.
His first two strikes and a goal from the Emirati forward Juma Al Dhaheri gave them a 3-1 lead in the first period of play.
Jamie Nelson was on target for the Camels in the first period and Tristan MacLaggan and Kareem Hamza scored in a second period in which Carson completed his hat-trick.
Matti Fagerstrom and Carson were on the score sheet in the last period with a consolation goal from MacLaggan.
“We are extremely disappointed in the result,” said Ron Murphy, the captain of the Camels side whose last match will be against the Al Ain Theebs.
“This means the Storms will have to lose one of their two remaining games in order for us to finish in first place. We were indisciplined and took way too many penalties.
“The Storms are too good a team to keep giving them power plays. They will score and they did.
“We did play well in different parts of the game but overall they were more consistent throughout and deserved to win.”
Faikov, who had been the UAE national team coach from March 2001 to December 2008, returned to the UAE when he agreed a two-year contract to become the Storms’ coach.
He now has a dual role as he has also been tasked with preparing the national team for next month’s IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in India.
Faikov has already picked a 24-member squad from the Storms and the Al Ain Theebs to train every Wednesday at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink.
“We have been training for the last three weeks and mostly the work has been based on physical conditioning and tactics,” he said.
“We hope to play some practice games closer to the competition dates.
“The majority of the players are from the Storms and I have worked with almost all of them in the past. So working for the Storms is like working with the national team.”