An eight-team Under 12 tournament to coincide with National Day celebrations, including a team from Qatar, showed that ice hockey is heading in the right direction in the UAE.
Youngsters get their skates on
ABU DHABI // Fledgling hockey players were hot on the ice in a National Day competition at Abu Dhabi Ice Rink.
Eight teams took part in the Under 12 tournament, from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and one from Qatar, the first time a team of youngsters from the Gulf neighbours had flown down for the competition.
The competition was organised by the Abu Dhabi Ice Sports Club (ADISC), and was the second time they had staged the event to coincide with the UAE's National Day celebrations.
Abu Dhabi won the Union 40 Cup, beating Dubai 4-0 in the main final while Abu Dhabi-3 took the ADISC Trophy with a 6-3 victory over Abu Dhabi-2.
The tournament was held as part of the continuing programme to develop ice hockey at grass roots level in the country.
"There is no doubt the sport is heading in the right direction," said Mohammed Aref Al Jachi, the UAE national team defender and technical committee member of the UAE Ice Hockey Association.
"These are good times and good signs, and the kind of feedback we receive from our development programmes is good. The sport is now being patronised by both the Emirati as well as the expatriate children.
"Our development programmes are based on the recommendations of the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation] with whom we work very closely. And this partnership has contributed immensely to the all-round progress of the sport."
Ali Ahmed Al Hosani, the marketing and communications manager of ADISC, said: "The Under 12 tournament was an overwhelming success, both in terms of the enthusiasm of the young participants and on the development front.
"Abu Dhabi was the first of three competitions for the Under 12s. The next is in Dubai in January and Al Ain will stage the third competition in March. These age group competitions are now permanent fixtures in our calendar of the events."
To continue the flow of young players, the ADISC have set up age group competitions for Under 15 and Under 18 teams, and the new Under 20 Emirates Hockey League, which has been rearranged for mid December.
"The start had to be delayed because of scheduling issues," Ron Murphy, the president and captain of the Dubai Mighty Camels, said.
"The ice time wasn't available and the start has been rescheduled to December 10."
The Under 20 league has drawn four teams, two from Abu Dhabi, the Storms and Shaheen and one each from Al Ain and Dubai, the Theebs and the Sandstorms.
The ADISC has employed a full-time coach, Matti Fagerstrom, and a full-time referee, Hanri Neva.
The Storms, a team in which the majority are Emiratis and members of the national team, have also employed a full-time coach, Yuri Faikov, on a two-year contract.
The Belarusian was the national team coach from March 2001 to December 2008.
"Catching them young is the best way forward," said Faikov. "The UAE have not only created nurseries but are providing them early exposure to competitions. The future looks bright."