x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Competition provides ideal preparation

The national coach hopes the league will help their defence of the Challenge Cup of Asia and their participation in the World Championship Division-III qualifiers.

The winning team members of the Al Ain Vipers celevrate a job well done.
The winning team members of the Al Ain Vipers celevrate a job well done.

ABU DHABI // The coach of the UAE national ice hockey team hopes the league will help their defence of the Challenge Cup of Asia and their participation in the World Championship Division-III qualifiers. The team will fly to Taipei to defend the continental championship from March 29 to April 4. They head to Zurich on April 7 for a week's training before heading to Luxemburg for the Division-III qualifiers from April 14 to 18.

The UAE's Finnish coach, Teemu Taruvouri, hailed the EHL, which wound up its first season with Al Ain Vipers crowned champions on Wednesday night, as the ideal platform for the national team's preparation for the forthcoming events and a long-term vehicle to develop the sport in the country. "The Emirati players have never played in organised competitions before and the league provided them the ideal platform. It is the first year of the league and I am sure it will get established. A regular league is an important ingredient for the development of ice hockey as in all other sport.

"It has provided both the expatriate and the Emirati players the opportunity to play in an organised competition, which itself is a great start. Having watched the games, I can say it's one of the strongest leagues in the continent. "The league was created on the recommendations of the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation] and it's going to get better every passing year. Of course the first year was a learning curve but it will definitely improve."

The league provided each of five teams with 16 matches in the regular season, played over a six-month period. It consists of three teams from the expatriate community and two all-Emirati sides that included the core of the national team players. The Al Ain Vipers became the first champions with a clinical demolition of the favourites, Dubai Mighty Camels, 4-0 in the deciding game of the best-of-three final at Abu Dhabi Ice Rink on Wednesday.

"The expatriate teams have been playing each other and most of them have been playing from a young age where they come from. This type of opposition was what the Emirati players needed to play against," said Taruvouri, 24, who also is a member of the development committee. "Having seen the conclusion of the league, we now plan to have the complete national team squad playing against the top three teams in the EHL as part of our lead-up to the Asian championship, which we intend to win."

According to Aref al Jachi, the national team defender and the technical committee director of the UAE Ice Hockey Federation, creating a national league was one condition set down by the IIHF after the UAE earned a passage to the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division III Qualifiers. It is the first time a team from an Arab or developing Asian country has qualified for the World Championship, marking another major achievement following their success in the continental championship.

Winning the Challenge Cup of Asia, which they hosted in the capital last year, earned them the backing of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, and additional funding has meant the UAE national team could meet the strict criteria needed to comply with IIHF standards - including having a national league and the implementation of a sustainable junior development programme. That development programme started during the summer with a junior camp and the launch of the Abu Dhabi Ice Hockey School in September.

"The important thing of the EHL is that we have created a strong base from which we can keep improving over a period of time," said al Jach. "We have never played against this kind of opposition before; leave aside the number of games. There is no doubt the first year of the league has provided us an eye-opener." @Email:apassela@thenational.ae