Abu Dhabi: Six countries, including the UAE, will vie for the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia starting on March 16 in the capital. Defending champions Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Kuwait and Thailand are the participating countries apart from the UAE.
UAE captain Juma Al Dhaheri was confident of his side putting up a good show in front of the home fans. “We are playing in front of our home crowd so we need to win it. It is very important for us and our supporters will also be hoping that we win,” said Al Dhaheri, whose side has won in 2012 and 2009.
The captain was banking on the experience the team gained during the local league to lead the challenge. “We have had good training in the last two months. The level of the league was very high and so was the skill factor. There are a lot of skillful expat players playing in the local league. So it was a test for all of us and now we are ready for the challenge,” said Al Dhaheri.
“Chinese Taipei are the defending champions and they will be the team to beat. We will have to give our best against them,” felt Al Dhaheri.
The IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia gives Asian countries — that are not in the World Championship programme or who play in the lowest division — a chance to compete. It will also help develop ice hockey in Asia and help rank the Asian teams in view of the seeding for the Asian Winter Games.
The first edition of the event was held in 2008 with six teams in Hong Kong, followed by the eight-team event in Abu Dhabi in 2009. The year after, nine teams participated in the event in the Chinese Taipei. 2012 marked the first ever event held in India, in the city of Dehradun. In 2013, a record number of 10 teams came to Bangkok in the first IIHF tournament ever held in Thailand.
“Usually, it is a 10-12 team tournament but the presence of some weak teams was hurting the game. So we now have the top teams and the developing team tournament. This has made the duration of the tournament short and also has created lot of interest,” said Mohammad Arif Al Jachi, UAE Ice Hockey Federation’s technical director and player.
Al Jachi went on to reveal that the sport was catching up fast within the region. “There is a lot of interest. Apart from us and Kuwait, Qatar last year became a member with IIHF and Oman got the recognition last month from their government and now we are working with them to be a member with IIHF,” said Al Jachi, adding: “We will also be having a meeting among the GCC countries during this tournament to discuss on how we can develop the sport in the region.”