x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Canada is the goal for Dubai ice hockey keeper

Student Athlete of the Week The Dubai-based hockey player, Matt Jones, hopes he can get a scholarship in his home country, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Matt Jones, who moved to Dubai from Canada in 2004, was voted the best goalie of the Emirates Hockey League.
Matt Jones, who moved to Dubai from Canada in 2004, was voted the best goalie of the Emirates Hockey League.

As Chris and Isabelle Jones were moving from Montreal to Dubai in 2004, one of the first inquiries they made was about the presence of ice hockey in the UAE. Their son Matt was a promising young player and dedicated to the sport.

"We knew there was hockey when we moved here," Isabelle Jones said. "I think if there was no hockey, he would have just strangled us and we could not have come to live here."

Matt was 10 when he left Canada. He had started playing ice hockey two years earlier and was relieved to know he would be able to carry on with his sport.

Leaving all his friends and moving from a French-speaking city to an English-speaking school was a difficult change, but the presence of Canada's national sport made him feel a bit better.

"We were probably going to move here anyway, but I wasn't going to be happy if there was no ice hockey," said Jones, a year 12 student of JESS Arabian Ranches.

"When we first came here, the league was very small, but at least there was a league. So I was feeling better, I wasn't as mad about moving."

When Jones first came to the UAE, there was only the junior league and it was not very well organised.

His mother, who spent four years as the president of the Dubai Sandstorms, worked hard to turn things around, putting her experience to use and bringing in some professionalism.

As the sport grew in the UAE, an official Emirates Ice Hockey League came into being in 2009.

Jones missed out on the first year as he was too young to play. He made his debut last season, in the colours of the Dubai Mighty Camels, and made an immediate impact, winning the best goalkeeper of the league award.

The award was not the first trophy for the 17 year old.

"I have been lucky to win a lot of tournaments awards in different countries," said Jones, who picks a tournament in Holland as his most memorable.

"It was my first international medal," he said.

"It was in Holland, where I went with, it's not a team anymore, the Scorpions. I won gold at the tournament. I remember because my mum was really emotional about it.

"When you come from Dubai, there's almost no one playing, and then you go to Holland and there's thousands of people watching you play, and you win the goalie of the tournament; there's like 16 teams. It's just amazing ... a great feeling."

As well as Holland, Jones has already played in places such as Latvia, Qatar and Hong Kong. He also goes back to Canada for summer camps, "to stay up to date with everything that's going on over there" and he also travels with the youth league as the goalkeeping coach.

In a couple of years, Jones will be heading back home, to a university in Canada, and he hopes the tournament awards he has won will help him get a scholarship. He also dreams of playing professionally as well.

"We would love him to and people around tell him he has the potential to," his mother said. "The downside is, because we are in Dubai, the chances of him getting noticed are very slim."

Jones said: "I'd love to think I would do something as a professional in hockey, but I don't know if it is unrealistic or realistic."

"I have to wait until I go to university and see what happens."


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Ahmed Rizvi on @RizzoMumbai