Emirati ice hockey player aims to join world’s best in NHL

Khalifa Al Mahrouqi views the NHL star Sidney Crosby as his role model and hopes to be the Emirati player to take ice hockey to the next level.

Khalifa Al Mahrouqi, pictured in Abu Dhabi on March 10, 2014, is one of four young prospects who were called up by the UAE national ice hockey team ahead of the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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Khalifa Al Mahrouqi has a dream of playing ice hockey professionally and even making it to North America’s National Hockey League (NHL).

The 17 year old, who is the youngest member for the UAE team at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia, said there is no harm in "dreaming big" – even though he only started playing the game three years ago.

“I saw the game during a casual visit to the Al Ain Ice Rink and took a liking. I used to do gymnastics and play basketball before I got hooked on hockey,” he said.

“Everyone from the coach to the senior players has helped to improve my game. I am working hard to achieve my objectives, which are to play hockey full time and showcase other youngsters that there is a sport which you can enjoy as well as become a big star.”

NHL superstar Sidney Crosby, the 26-year-old captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is Al Mahrouqi’s hero and he tries to emulate the Canadian’s style of play.

“He’s my favourite player and I look at him as my role model. I want to be as good as him,” the Emirati said.

“I watch the NHL games on TV and YouTube and am learning all the time. I practise those skills.

“I know it takes a lot of hard work to get to that level. For me, with the facilities, infrastructure and the encouragement they provide here, it is good enough to reach that level.

“In any sport, you need to push yourself to the limits to succeed. One needs to dream big, and with that motivation and the work ethics it is not hard to achieve these objectives.”

Al Mahrouqi said he thinks the domestic game eventually will turn professional.

“There are a few overseas professionals in the Emirates Hockey League [EHL], and I believe there are plans from the administrators of the sport in the country to turn the domestic competition fully professional, like in football,” he said.

The UAE Ice Hockey Federation is one of the leading players in developing the game in Asia and works closely with the IIHF.

The EHL was established in 2009, fitting in with IIHF plans to create strong domestic leagues around the continent.

Al Mahrouqi is one of the four youngsters selected for the senior national team from the squad that played in the 2012 IIHF Under 19 Challenge Cup of Asia in Abu Dhabi.

The three other young newcomers in the senior squad are Abdulla Al Harmoodi, Salem Al Rumaithi and Mohammed Al Dhaheri

“Khalifa is one of the best young forward prospects in the country, and we were impressed with his play in that championship,” said Khaled Al Qubaisi, the former UAE goaltender who is now the team manager.

“Since then, he has shown remarkable improvement when playing for Al Ain Theebs in the EHL.

“If he says he wants to pursue a full-time career in hockey, I am sure the UAE federation will provide the support and backing, provided he reaches the level he needs to reach.

“He has shown a lot of discipline and commitment towards his work but taking his game to the next level will entirely be in his own hands. He has the talent and I hope he can succeed.”

apassela@thenational.ae

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