ABU DHABI // Schoolboys Hazza Saeed and Khalifa Mohammed have been playing ice hockey for only a year but already want to emulate what the senior UAE national team achieved over the weekend and win the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia.
Saeed, 17, and Mohammed, 15, both from Al Ain, will be part of the UAE age group squad for the inaugural Under 18 version of the event at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink from Sunday to April 6.
The championship involves five teams -Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Thailand and the UAE.
They will play in a round-robin league format and the team with the highest points crowned the champions.
"It will be a new experience for us and, I guess, the same for all participating teams, this being the inaugural event," said Saeed, a 12th grade pupil from Al Ain who plays as a forward for the Al Ain Theebs in the Under 20 Emirates Hockey League.
"For us, it is a new sport and we play in a new Under 20 domestic league, which has provided us valuable match practice and the experience.
"We want to follow in the path of our senior team.
"They have had a lot of success in a short period of time and I don't see why we can't achieve what they have achieved if not go even better now that we have got the opportunity to start so much earlier than they did."
Teammate Saeed, who also plays as a forward, has loftier ambitions.
"I love this sport and I want pursue a career in hockey," he said.
"To play in this tournament is a great opportunity to fulfil my ambitions."
The UAE squad will regroup Wednesday for a final training session before their international debut.
They have been active this season in the U20 hockey league, a four-team tournament featuring the Abu Dhabi Storms and Shaheen, Al Ain Theebs and Junior Dubai Mighty Camels.
"The players have been with their respective clubs, training as well as playing competitive matches in the U20 league," Waheed Al Arab, the assistant technical manager of the championship, said.
"As youngsters they have to balance the sport with their studies, and that's the reason they haven't been able to have a camp earlier. But they have been training with their respective clubs and playing competitive games in the U20 Emirates Hockey League."
Ali Ahmed Al Hosani, the marketing and communications manager of the Abu Dhabi Ice Sports Club - the governing body for the sport in the country - said the schedule will be drawn tonight after all teams have arrived.
"This age group championship is a big step forward and provides the players the opportunity to play at international level at an early age," Al Hosani said.
"The sport has suddenly taken off in the UAE. Our senior league is only three years and the junior league is midway of its first season. We have had success internationally having just regained the Challenge Cup of Asia.
"The UAE is ranked 47th in the world and is the top team in the Arab World."