Local rivalry will play second fiddle to performances on the ice when two clubs - Abu Dhabi and Al Ain - cross swords for the first time tonight in the newly established Emirates Hockey League (EHL) at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink. The national league consists of five teams and each will play 16 matches over six months before a play-off between the top four teams in March.
Mohammed Aref al Jachi, the national team defender and member of the UAE Ice Hockey Association's technical committee sees this game as a new beginning. "We have played each other in unofficial games but this is the first time in a competition," said al Jachi, who plays for Abu Dhabi. "It's hard to say how this rivalry will turn out to be in the future but this is definitely a match of great significance."
According to al Jachi, the two teams will play under the guidelines of the development programme drawn up by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and that will reduce the intensity of the rivalry. "We started this league on the recommendation of the IIHF, which are helping us in establishing this league and in the grassroots development," he said. "Under such conditions, the intensity of the rivalry will lessen.
"The focus is to play on the instructions given to us from the two Finnish development officers Teemu Taruvuori and Matias Posia, both of whom will be working with us for the next two years. "This league is structured to prepare the national team and since, the core players make up the two teams, the games between us will be viewed as trials." Abu Dhabi went down 5-2 to Al Ain Vipers in their opening match while Al Ain Club come out for the first time in the league.
"Obviously both teams will be looking to win this game," added al Jachi. "The results will matter later on to qualify for the play-off. But being the first match between the two local teams in the league, the priority is to follow the guidelines of our instructors." firstname.lastname@example.org