As Emirates Hockey League resumes in October, Juma Al Dhaheri is determined to win a third title, but the bigger picture includes developing Emirati talent.
Abu Dhabi Storms aim to be a finishing school for UAE's best hockey players
Even as they get ready to chase a third Emirates Hockey League (EHL) title when the season kicks off next month, the Abu Dhabi Storms will be using the competition to develop upcoming Emirati players.
UAE captain Juma Al Dhaheri, who also leads the Storms – a side comprising of mostly UAE players – has said that the primary objective since the EHL was founded in 2009 has been to deepen the talent pool.
“Obviously our aim is to win the title and if we can achieve that, it’s a bonus for us. But the emphasis really is on the development of the national team,” said Al Dhaheri, who is also general secretary of the UAE Ice Hockey Federation.
“This season we have a few youngsters, and the plan is to provide them as much exposure as we can.”
Al Dhaheri also hailed the clubs for their commitment to raising the bar every year.
“The league was at a good level from the time it was founded,” the forward said. “The league consists of several expatriate players from established hockey playing nations in the teams. They bring load and loads of experience to the league.
“The EHL was founded on the recommendations of the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation] with whom we are working closely to develop the sport in the region.
“The teams can employ three professional or semi-professional players,” he pointed out. “The EHL is widely regarded as the best national league in Asia. Our objective is to keep improving it all the time.”
Such has been the quality of competition that as many as five teams have won the title over the past eight years.
The Dubai Mighty Camels lifted the trophy three times and the Storms twice. The Al Ain Vipers, the inaugural champions, the Dubai Oilers and the White Bears won once each.
Last season was a good one for the Dubai-based White Bears, not just because they won the league, but also due to the fact they went on a record 10-match winning streak. It was a run that included a 2-0 triumph over Al Ain Theebs in the best-of-three finals.
As the new season gets underway when the White Bears visit the Garden City to take on the Theebs on October 2, player-coach Troy Kahler is confident about their title defence.
“As the champions, we are very excited for the action to begin,” the Ontario native said.
“We have some new players crossing over from the Vipers and some arriving from Sweden, so we are going to look a little different from the last season.
“The team looks younger with quite a few youth players in the side. We started our training eight weeks ago and are fully committed to retain our hold of the league title.”
Al Dhaheri is also looking forward to the all-round development of the sport in the UAE. “The President’s Cup in November [14-17] is one of the major events we have been hosting,” he said.
“We invite four overseas teams to play against two local sides. This time we have invited a team each from Egypt and Lebanon, both comprising former players from the NHL and other established leagues from around the world.”
Other upcoming events include the Bangkok Land of Smiles tournament from October 28 to November 1 and the Belarus International men’s competition from January 4-7.
There will be key tournaments to look forward to in March: the women’s team feature in the Challenge Cup of Asia and the youth side play in the U20 Challenge Cup of Asia.
The highlight, however, will be the senior team’s participation in the World Championship Qualification Division 3 competition in Turkmenistan.