Juma Al Dhaheri optimistic after UAE’s second-place finish at IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia

Juma Al Dhaheri sees plenty of reason for optimism for ice hockey in the UAE despite a third successive second-place finish in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia.

Juma Al Dhaheri ( no 7 in white ) of UAE in action during the match against Thailand in the Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia 2016 held at Abu Dhabi Ice Rink at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi. UAE won the match by 6 - 1. Pawan Singh / The National
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Juma Al Dhaheri, the captain of the UAE ice hockey team, won the Most Valuable Player award at the recently concluded IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia after scoring four goals in as many games.

UAE finished runner-up behind six-time champions Chinese Taipei in the continental championship that also included Mongolia, Thailand and Singapore, at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink. The UAE lost their final match of the round-robin league 6-1 to Chinese Taipei on Friday.

Al Dhaheri, 39, regarded as the best Emirati forward, has the distinction of playing in all the Challenge Cup of Asia competitions since its inception in 2008.

The UAE have the second best record in the competition behind Chinese Taipei having won the title twice, in 2009 and 2012, and finished runner-up five times.

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You were runner-up behind Chinese Taipei for a third successive year, are you disappointed at the result?

We must be realistic. We lost to the best team in Asia for a long time. Their record in this competition is the best, so we can’t say we were disappointed. Of course, at that moment we feel disappointed because we couldn’t win in front of our home fans despite doing our best. The 6-1 score doesn’t tell the actual story, but we gave them a good run and we are not too far behind them.

Your own form remains high. How do you maintain it?

It’s just keeping myself in good shape by training regularly. When you have the passion and discipline, I guess, you can keep your level high.

As a full time official (general secretary) of the Abu Dhabi Ice Hockey Club, how do you see the sport developing among the Emiratis?

We work very closely with the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation] and implement all their recommendations. It has been quite successful with the women, youth and junior programmes, apart from our own men’s development schedules.

The Emirates Hockey League, founded in 2009, is getting stronger and is drawing more players from ice hockey countries like Canada, USA and Europe. Some of them have played in the top flight and still play at a good level. The teams have also increased from five to seven. I think we are going in the right direction in terms of progress.

What would be your dream for ice hockey here?

To see the Emirates Hockey League turn fully professional. We have come a long way from a humble beginning, and the league keeps raising the bar every passing year. The league is only seven years and we already have some full-time players from some of the established hockey playing nations. So it’s shaping up well. It will take a long time but I’m quite sure the time will come when the league will turn fully professional.

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