The arrival of Teemu Taruvuori and Matias Posio in the capital marks a new era for ice hockey in the country. Flown in from Finland, the pair have been charged with transforming the UAE ice hockey team into a force to be reckoned with in on the international stage. Having qualified for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Division III qualifiers, being held in Athens next April - the first Arab or developing Asian country to do so - the national team are on a mission to develop and improve standards of both senior and junior ice hockey in the UAE.
Taruvuori and Posio are part of this plan. Based at the Zayed Sports City ice rink, they will be working closely with the Abu Dhabi Ice Hockey Club (ADIHC) and the UAE team on skills and technique training, conditioning and nutrition. The coaches will also work with ADIHC on their junior development programme - which has already seen youngsters from Abu Dhabi and Al Ain attend junior summer training camps in each city.
Recommended by the IIHF, the Finnish coaches are part of a sport and leisure management degree run by the Sports Institute of Finland, Vierumäki - both are in the capital as part of the final stage of the course. With the Asian Cup and IIHF World Championship qualifiers coming up fast, Taruvuori and Posio aim to raise the level of skill and professionalism in the Emirates - ensuring they are contenders in 2010.
"I was surprised by the level of skill here. The level varies a lot, but there are some really good players already so that's a good start," said Taruvuori. "All the players are really motivated too, which makes our job mush easier, they really want to learn and improve." Both coaches come from a competitive background. "I played for 15 years and then quit because I had almost broken everything you could break," said Taruvuori.
"I was playing in the highest junior level you can play in - the year after I quit I would have been in the men's senior level. I was disappointed not to continue playing, but there were many crashes and injuries. Now I love coaching." Launching a men's league is a key target, said Posio - who represented the Finnish junior team. "Bringing more professionalism and team emphasis is the main challenge here, building a structure and making them into a professional team. It is not something they have had here before, but they are motivated to achieve this," he said.
"If we get the men's league going - which is due to start in September - we want to get a good season under us and get the players playing and competing all the time, raise the level of fitness and skills, and to build up the structure." Both have been involved in coaching youngsters at the junior ice hockey summer camp, hoping to unearth future talent, since June 10. "It has been a very good start, they are very enthusiastic and we have many good skaters," said Posio.
"Hopefully we will have more schools involved in the future and have bigger camps. "The kids love to do it. It is a very good step in the right direction. Hopefully if we do good with this camp the word will spread and more kids will want to be involved." Taruvuori believes they have already spotted a few youngsters with potential. "We have scouted the best skaters from each age group. We have 10 good skaters who are showing talent," he said. "After the summer camp I hope we will have found more. They seem really motivated."