x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ice hockey teens are in a league of their own

First game a 'learning curve' for the Emirati-led Storms team lose to the Dubai Mighty Camels 12-1.

The Dubai Mighty Camels and the Abu Dhabi Storms took part in the first Under 20s Emirates Hockey League game.
The Dubai Mighty Camels and the Abu Dhabi Storms took part in the first Under 20s Emirates Hockey League game.

ABU DHABI // The first two teams have finally faced off in the Under 20 Emirates Hockey League and the wait was worth it for the teenagers in the Junior Dubai Mighty Camels side.

They opened their account in a league that had been scheduled to start in September with a convincing 12-1 victory over the Abu Dhabi Storms, a team in which half the players are Emiratis.

"The wait was worth it because the youngsters are getting to play in a competition that would eventually be producing players for the senior league and country's national team," Anthony Johnson, the coach of the Junior Dubai Mighty Camels, said.

"Many of the players in the Camels' team have been playing in our own league in Dubai for the last three years and a couple of them have graduated to the senior team as well."

The league, which got underway last week, was started on the recommendation of the sport's governing body, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), who stipulate an IIHF-sanctioned country must have an Under 20 league.

While the Storms had a strong Emirati presence in their team there was a large North American influence in the Camels side.

Matti Fagerstrom, the coach of both the Storms and the Abu Dhabi Shaheen, acknowledged the youngsters from North America had a better knowledge and understanding of the game.

"In is our first game but I wasn't expecting such high score defeat," said the Finn. "Of course the Camels were a good team and they had several players from North America where the sport is very popular and well established.

"This is a learning curve for my players and I am confident we will catch up with them as the league progresses. Indeed it has been a long wait for all he player but they are now excited and they can now look forward for something every week.

Fagerstrom's side began training from last September and a majority of the team are new to the sport.

"They now have the opportunity to play competitive matches every week until May and can only get better," he added.

Johnson said his players were eager to play after the long wait to take part in a competition that was first tabled in April, almost at the end of last season.

"I tried to fire them up in the dressing room before the start of the game but they were already fired up," said the Canadian.

"They have been waiting since September for this moment and the mindset was to get on the ice and play their game. It was teamwork with everyone contributing.

"However, it was the Abu Dhabi team that scored first before we ended the first period leading 3-1. I didn't know what to expect from the Storms. I knew they had these Scandinavian coaches and they get two days of training per week, which is more than we do.

"They were fast and well conditioned but they were tactical they were not matching us. Our team had much chemistry in their passing and better understanding. We had the momentum going for us in this game but I would expect the Abu Dhabi team to come back with a different game plan when we meet next time."

The competition has drawn four teams - the Camels, Storms, Shaheen and Al Ain Theebs - who will play in a round robin league with each side playing 18 matches.

apassela@thenational.ae