Juma Al Dhaheri declared winning the UAE Ice Hockey President’s Cup for the first time in four attempts as one of the finest moments in the history of Abu Dhabi Storms.
The Emirates Hockey League side, led by UAE captain Al Dhaheri, clinched the title after beating the Belarus President’s Team 3-1 in the final at the Zayed Sports City Ice Rink on Saturday.
It is the teams' fourth final meeting, with the Belarus side winning the title in the previous three years.
“We have tried to win this title since it was founded in 2015,” an ecstatic Al Dhaheri said. “We have been preparing for this competition ever since our last defeat, and to finally lay hands on this title is one of the finest moments for me and the club."
The Storms comprise players from the national team as well as foreign professionals involved in the EHL, and Al Dhaheri thanked Sheikh Falah bin Zayed, one of board's main patrons, for sponsoring the three Croatian players in the side - goalkeeper Mate Tomlenovic, Borna Silovic and Luka Vukoja.
“They have played a huge role in tonight’s win and also to top the EHL points table," Al Dhaheri said. "Of course they couldn’t have done it without the contributions from the rest of our foreign players who play in the EHL."
Al Dhaheri said the quality of the competition was better than ever. "Like us, they [the Belarus side] too had arrived with a stronger squad than in the previous years, which has been the trend of this competition. The bar is raised every year," he pointed out.
“This success means a lot for us and the future of ice hockey in the UAE in terms of development, sponsors and above all to encourage our youth to join the sport. It’s a very happy moment for us tonight.”
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The Storms and the Belarus President’s Team reached the final after winning all their games in the six-team round robin league that included Parta and Jets from the Czech Republic, Slovenian side Stars and Old Timers from Germany.
Artur Zainultdinov, a prolific scorer in the EHL, put the Storms ahead with a vital goal with a minute and 35 seconds left in the captivating first period during which the goalkeepers on either side were tested fully.
The home team doubled the lead through Silovic after Andrei Mikhaliou had come close to levelling the score early in the second period.
The Storms virtually sealed the game after Zainultdinov broke through the defence to score his second to take a 3-0 lead in the third and final period.
The visitors broke the Storms defence through Mikhaliou with 30 second left on the clock, but that was only a consolation.
Storms netminder Tomlenovic was outstanding on the night with plenty of support from defenders Vetali Savko and Artiom Senkevieh.
Storms' two-goal hero Zainultdinov, playing in his third season, insisted it was a closer game than the score suggests.
“It was a great all-round effort to win against a strong side,” the Russian forward added.
“Our defence was solid and the goalkeeper was outstanding. It was pretty hard to score but we managed with good teamwork. We all knew how important it was to win after losing to this Belarus side in the last three years.”