It’s heating up in the UAE’s ice rinks this 2015/16 season
As the 2015/16 season begins, it is no exaggeration to declare ice hockey in the country is bigger and better than ever.
The sixth season of the Emirates Hockey League (EHL) opened a week ago even as the UAE Ice Hockey Association, in cooperation with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), have ambitious plans.
The number of teams competing in the EHL has increased from five, in its inaugural season in 2009/10, to seven to keep in line with the recommendations of the IIHF’s development programme.
The future looks bright for the sport with more expansion planned in coming seasons, including an All Emirati League and a new partnership with the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
Mohammed Aref Al Jachi, the Abu Dhabi Ice Sports Club’s director of sports, says the success has much to do with the work carried out on the recommendations of the IIHF.
“We have a good working relationship with the IIHF and have the resources to undertake the recommendations and development programmes,” said Al Jachi, a defenceman in the UAE national team.
The new season promises a packed schedule as Abu Dhabi bids to host the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in March.
The EHL got under way last Monday with the Dubai Mighty Camels defeating Abu Dhabi Storms 7-3 at the Dubai Mall.
It was followed by the White Bears edging Al Ain Theebs on a golden goal 7-6 and the Storms bouncing back to clinch a 4-3 win over city rivals Scorpions 4-3.
The round-robin phase of the league concludes on January 30 followed by play-offs, which run until February 24.
When the EHL was established, the teams largely comprised of expatriates – the bulk of whom came from established hockey nations such as Canada, United States, Finland, Russia, Great Britain and the Czech Republic – alongside Emiratis players.
More locals, however, have taken up the sport In recent times.
In fact, between the EHL games, a league exclusively for Emiratis is set to begin in October, along with the age-group competitions and the women’s events.
The President’s Cup is slated from November 17 to 20, and teams from Russia, Germany, the Czech Republic and Belarus are expected to play in Abu Dhabi.
“The second staging of the President’s Cup will have more foreign teams and telecast live on Abu Dhabi Sports. The aim is to promote the sport by providing more viewing opportunities,” Al Jachi said.
The Capital Cup from December 2 to 5 will provide more competition opportunities for the second- and third-tier teams.
The Storms, the EHL team with a majority of national players, will travel to Belarus for the President of the Belarus Invitational tournament from January 4 to 7.
The national team will participate in the IIHF World Championship Division III in Istanbul from March 31 to April 9.
Qatar is set to host the Gulf Cup, but a date is yet to be decided. Bahrain are joining the competition to make it five teams, with the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman in the fourth staging of the biennial championship.
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