By Amith Passela – The National

Ice hockey continues to spread its wings in the Middle East and North Africa region as the inaugural Arab Clubs Championship gets under way at Abu Dhabi Ice Rink in Zayed Sports City on Tuesday.

The four-day competition, organised by the UAE Ice Sports Federation and to be played in a league format, includes five teams from Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and the UAE. Abu Dhabi Storms, the Emirates Hockey League (EHL) team consisting of a majority of the national team players, play hosts.

“The visiting teams comprise mainly of expatriate players from ice hockey-playing nations and it should be a good experience for us, particularly the Emirati players,” UAE and Storms captain Juma Al Dhaheri said.

“Our team also comprise semi-professional players, but we’ll try to provide the Emirati players more opportunities. We expect the visiting teams to be very strong and expect some close games.”

Al Dhaheri said the competition provides an ideal platform to his team as they keep an eye on the EHL play-offs, which starts on April 10.

“It will certainly help the Storms team, and if successful, we can take that momentum forward to our domestic league.”

Team Lebanon who took part in the President’s Cup in Abu Dhabi in December will be in action against Alger Corsaires of Algeria in the opening match followed by the Storms versus Pharaohs of Egypt. Carthage Eagles from Tunisia is the fifth team.

Federation vice-president Hamad Al Qubaisi said the event is another step forward in its vision develop and popularise the sport in the region.

“We have had a few clubs in the region playing in one-off competitions every now and then,” Al Qubaisi said. “We hope this tournament will be an annual one in our calendar of events, and a platform to further develop the sport not only in the UAE but in the Arab countries.”