x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

UAE hockey fans gather for Stanley Cup match

Canadian and American expatriates were up before the sun on Thursday to catch the final of the Stanley Cup.

DUBAI // Of all his friends, James Fitzgerald was the first to wake for the deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals.

The seventh game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins was not limited to fans of those cities and teams.

It was a shot for the Canucks to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993 and a chance for Bruins fans to celebrate their first cup victory since 1972.

North Americans who might otherwise have overlooked the finals congregated in living rooms across the UAE to watch the game played 11,700km away in the city of Vancouver.

Mr Fitzgerald is hardly a stereotypical hockey buff. The closest thing the clean-shaven Irishman owns to a hockey jersey is a Canadian cricket shirt.

"I'm in training," he said, opening the door to his first arrivals at 4am.

A native of Dublin, Mr Fitzgerald is to wed his Canadian sweetheart, Robin Durant, in July. He has already won her heart but a good knowledge of hockey will be essential to impress her father and older brother.

As nine Canadians and Americans crowded into Mr Fitzgerald's flat, none could match the passion of the Irishman.

While Mr Fitzgerald outdid his friend, Lisa Scheirer, an English teacher, with his new-found fanaticism for her hometown Vancouver team, the other Canadians present proved altogether less loyal to their compatriots.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend," said Paul Hart, a history teacher from Vancouver's rival town of Calgary, who plays defence for the Dubai Sandstorms. "I'm not normally a Bruins fan. I just don't want Vancouver to win. By cheering for Boston, I'm cheering for Calgary."

It was Mr Fitzgerald who sat on the edge of his seat to cheer for Vancouver and wail every time the Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas saved a shot and every time Roberto Luongo, the Vancouver goalie, let another slip past.

And it was Mr Fitzgerald, a volunteer international rugby coach, who called foul when players were too rough.

"It's a very angry game, this," said Mr Fitzgerald, watching another player take a beating. "I think it inspires them to be angry."

"It's not anger," protested Brian Chesher, a Canadian English teacher. "It's emotion."

As the buzzer sounded and the Bruins celebrated their 4-0 victory, Mr Fitzgerald could be heard commenting on the Irish looks of the ginger-haired Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, awarded the accolade of most valuable player of the playoffs.

"Boston's a good Irish town," he said.

His fiancée matched the optimism he had shown for the Canucks during the match.

"When's the first game of next season?" she asked.

When it starts, Mr Fitzgerald and his bride will be watching.