By Amith Passela – The National
Abu Dhabi Storms are determined to end the dominance of the Belarus President’s Team at the President’s Cup ice hockey tournament, which gets underway at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink on Tuesday.
In a move to stop the visitors from claiming a fourth trophy in as many years, the Storms – a side usually made up of Emirati internationals – have recruited six foreign professionals, including three Finns and three Slovenians.
“They are the team to beat and we’ll try our best,” Juma Al Dhaheri, the Storms and UAE captain, said at the launch ceremony in the capital on Sunday.
“It’s not just the Belarus President’s Team. Others in the competition are not pushovers,” Al Dhaheri added.
“A majority of the teams have several former NHL [North American-based National Hockey League] and KHL [Eastern European-based Kontinental Hockey League] players in their ranks, and we’ll only know them after seeing them play the first game.
“For us, as local players, it’s a great experience to play at this level, and the reason to bring in some professional players is to match our opponents as well as learn by playing alongside them.”
The competition played in a league format consists of six teams. The Belarus President’s Team are joined by Hockey Legends from Germany, Parch from Czech Republic and Team Lebanon, a side made up of Canadian expatriates living in Lebanon.
The two local teams challenging them are the Storms and a team representing the Emirates Hockey League – the EHL All Stars.
“The bar is raised every year in this tournament and we expect all teams to be equally strong,” said Al Dhaheri, who is also the general secretary of the UAE Ice Sports Federation.
“It’s also part of our development programme to stage a top-flight competition in the country where hockey fans both local and expatriates can enjoy by witnessing some top quality action on the ice, aside the EHL.”
Belarus President’s Team and Hockey Legends will be the first sides to take to the ice at 5.15pm on Tuesday.
The Storms then face Parch in the second game at 7.15pm and EHL All Stars take on Team Lebanon in the final game at 9.15pm.
Talal Al Hashemi, head of technical affairs at Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said the sport has a big following, particularly among Canadians, Americans and Europeans living in the region.
“This tournament has received a strong foundation and we want to build on that every passing year,” he added.
“Hopefully we’ll have teams comprising full professionals which is our long term ambitions.”