Growing pains do not melt Georgia's icy ambition

Ice hockey is a new team sport in Georgia, a country that has big ambitions once all their programmes are online writes Amith Passela.

Georgia, in red, were outscored 28-1 for the recent IIHF World Championship Division Three qualifying tournament at the Zayed Sports City Ice Rink in Abu Dhabi.
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ABU DHABI // Georgia may just have been beaten by three of the four lowest-rated teams in the world rankings, but they have lofty ambitious after a first appearance at an International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) event.

They ended this week's IIHF World Championship Division Three qualifier winless, having conceded 28 goals and scored just one in three games.

Georgia, who do not yet have a world ranking, lost to the UAE (ranked 47), Mongolia (46) and Greece (44). North Korea, who are 45th, did not play.

However, the team are treating the experience in Abu Dhabi as a learning process, especially as they arrived with a weakened team.

"We toured without eight of our regular players, including both the goalkeepers," said Zakaria Khechuashvili, the vice-president of the Georgia Ice Hockey Federation.

"These players couldn't make it for various personal reasons but had they travelled I think we could have matched the level of all the teams we played.

"However, this being our first appearance we now know what we need to do for next year. We will return with the intentions of not only qualifying from this group but to go beyond."

Khechuashvili said they were working closely on the recommendations laid down by the IIHF, the same plan the UAE has been following in its ice hockey development.

"It is a new sport but we have big ambitions," he said. "We may have less financial support than in the Emirates, but we have the potential and the resources because in Georgia everyone loves to play team sport.

"Unlike other sports, ice hockey needs the infrastructure and we have plans to build three more modern ice rinks in three different cities besides the three existing facilities.

"The projects have already been approved and we hope to start work by next year and complete them within a year."

The Georgia Ice Hockey Federation became a member of the IIHF in 2009 and launched a domestic league in 2010, one of the criteria of the world's governing body.

"We are working closely with the IIHF, like the UAE," Khechuashvili said. "We will have bigger resources of players once we have the infrastructure in place and this would be our strength to build a strong base."

Khechuashvili said their long-term objective is to go beyond the IIHF Group Division stage.

The world's top 16 teams compete at the World Championships. Below that there are three divisions, with the top two split into two groups, allowing every nation in the ice hockey world to compete for a trophy.

There is also promotion and relegation between these divisions.

"Perhaps [reaching] Division Two and to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea," Khechuashvili said. "It may sound a bit odd when I speak of such ambitions but this is our pathway."

Georgia went down 6-0 to Mongolia in their opener, 13-0 to Greece and 9-1 to the UAE, but Evgeny Alipov, the coach, said those results do not tell the actual story of their national team.

"They are a young squad with an average age of 22 and playing without eight the key players," the Ukrainian said.

"We were depleted squad but for those who travelled it has been a very good experience just to play in an IIHF competition. I am sure they will learn from this and be better prepared next time."

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