Fresh off their runner-up finish at the Under 18 Challenge Cup of Asia, the UAE team have a year to prepare for the Under 20 World Championship in Russia.
Russia is the next objective for UAE ice hockey
ABU DHABI // The Under 20 World Championship will be the upcoming venue for the UAE's age-group ice hockey team.
The young Emiratis last week finished as runners-up to Thailand at the inaugural International Ice Hockey Federation Under 18 Challenge Cup of Asia.
The world championship in Russia in 2013 will feature the top 10 hockey nations in the world, from which the world champions are crowned.
The UAE may fit in the three lower divisions - I, II and III - each playing in separate groups for the right to be promoted to a higher division or face relegation to a lower division.
The first two teams from the Challenge Cup qualify for the world championships, said Juma Al Dhaheri, the senior national team captain and a member of the Abu Dhabi Ice Sports Club (ADISC), the ruling body for the sport in the country.
"The continental championship is the first international tournament for our age-group team and the next level is a very big step up," Al Dhaheri said.
"But when there is an opportunity to play at the highest level, why not go there and soak in the experience?
"We are very pleased with their achievement."
The players now return to the Under 20 Emirates Hockey League, which ADISC started this year and is at the halfway stage. Then they go to a camp in Sweden or Finland, Al Dhaheri said.
His son, Mohammed Juma, 17, is one of the key players in the UAE age-group team.
"These players train with their club teams, Abu Dhabi Storms and Al Ain Theebs, four days a week and it is very hard to get them together as a team, but we will discuss and draw up a program from this summer," Al Dhaheri said.
Likit Eimwan, the Thailand coach, praised the UAE age-group team and predicted they will develop into a strong force in Asia.
"Considering that they have been playing hockey for only one year, they are a pretty good team," he said. "They skate well and some have good hockey skills, yet they need to learn to pass and create space.
"Hockey is a team game. I think this will come with the experience of playing more games."
"It was a satisfying result but the work must continue with the same commitment from the players," Matti Fagerstrom, the UAE coach, said.
"Thailand play regularly in competitions and we competed pretty well against them. Our players now realise the levels they have to reach if they want to win tournaments."
"For the moment, they will now return to their respective clubs to continue playing in the EHL." The inaugural U20 EHL consists of four teams, the Storms and Shaheen, both from Abu Dhabi; Al Ain Theebs and the Junior Dubai Mighty Camels.
The league competition concludes at the end of May.
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