DUBAI // In football terms it would be like having a kick-around with Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp; in ice hockey terms it was surely one of the most memorable training sessions the Dubai Mighty Camels have had. With more Stanley Cups per head than hair in some cases, former NHL players donned shirts bearing Mighty Camel names rather than their own more recognisable ones and took to the ice early yesterday in anticipation of the big match at Dubai Ice Rink, Dubai Mall, today.
Among the flurry of sticks on the ice were the likes of Jari Kurri (Team Finland manager and 18th top-scoring player in history with 1,398 points), 10-time Stanley Cup winner and Montreal Canadiens legend Yvan Cournoyer, former Calgary Flame co-captain James Peplinski, Canadiens' scoring machine Stephane Lebeau and Stanley Cup-winning former Edmonton Oiler, Ken Linseman. In town to help celebrate "Canada Week in Dubai" and raise money for the UAE Terry Fox Run and the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation, 15 big-name ice hockey players will take part in the Dubai Mighty Camels v International All Stars at 2pm today, followed by the Victor Kuzkin Memorial Game at 3pm tomorrow.
Kurri, 49, who trails only Wayne Gretzky as the leading point scorer in Oilers history, took time out from the rink to talk about whether Team Finland could take the crown at the World Championships next month and what on earth is going on at beleaguered Montreal Canadiens this season. "It's the International Ice Hockey World Championship in Switzerland at the end of April so when I get back from Dubai I will be busy scouting for players," said Kurri, who won bronze in the 1998 Winter Olympics during his lengthy Team Finland playing career.
In management now, Kurri must be torn between hoping that the best Fins in the NHL don't make the play-offs, which would rule them out of the world event, and wanting to see his countrymen do well in North America. "It's tough because a lot of Finnish players are in the NHL and clubs have control," he explained. "The players want to represent their country, of course, but the scheduling is difficult."
Finland, runners-up in the 2008 World Championship, are going for one better this year before the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada next year. "The last time we won the world title was in 1995 and we have come close the last few years. Hockey fans in Finland would love to win it - that's for sure, but competition is very tough," Kurri said. The fate of many NHL outfits will affect Kurri's Team Finland selections, including the struggling Montreal Canadiens, who have just fired their coach, Guy Carbonneau, half-way through their centenary season.
"They are under so much pressure because this is their 100th year and they are fighting for a play-off place," said Kurri of the Canadiens, who boast the match-winner Saku. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org