Juma Al Dhaheri, the Abu Dhabi Storms captain, believes the Arab Clubs Championship will become an annual feature on the UAE Ice Sports Federation’s calendar after his side won the inaugural title over the weekend.
Al Dhaheri, who is also the general secretary of the federation, hailed the "overwhelming success" of the championship after helping his side stage a thrilling comeback to win the final at Zayed Sports City Ice Rink 5-3.
“Leave aside the result, ice hockey fans witnessed a great match which had everything – the skills, speed and excitement – that a final game could provide,” he said after Saturday’s championship match in Abu Dhabi.
Ice hockey in the UAE remains a largely expatriate sport, Al Dhaheri said, but that competitions like the Arab Clubs Championship "will certainly encourage more indigenous people, particularly the youth, to join the sport.
“Our goal is to develop the sport in the region. We have created a pathway and the Arab Clubs Championship is one of them. There are more Arab countries now ready to join.”
Matti Fagerstrom, the Storms coach, said the championship had raised the profile of ice hockey in the region to a new level.
“It means more funding, more sponsorships and more importantly attracting more viewers through live TV coverage,” the Finn said.
The five-team competition played over a league format saw both the Storms and Team Lebanon reach the final game undefeated.
The Storms fielded their professionals for large parts of the match against a Montreal-based Team Lebanon, a combined side comprising of young Canadians and naturalised Lebanese players.
Nabil Kamleh, Team Lebanon’s assistant coach who plays for Dubai Mighty Camels in the Emirates Hockey League, believes the final was one of the best witnessed on these shores.
“I have been in Dubai for more than 13 years and witnessed one of the best games ever in the UAE,” he said.
“Full credit to the Storms for winning it but we witnessed a high skilled fast-paced game.
“As a Lebanese-Canadian, born and raised in Canada, it’s a remarkable tournament as it provides the opportunity to play for your country,” he added.
“I played for this team [Lebanon] in the President’s Cup in November and the standard has gone so high that I wasn’t able to play in this."
Alexander Pajusovs netted all three goals for Team Lebanon, one in each period, yet his efforts fell short against the home side.
Andrei Bashko put the Storms ahead on 10 minutes but Pajusovs struck four minutes from time to level the scores at the end of the first period.
Pajusovs netted the solitary goal in the second period before Artur Zainutdinov levelled the score in the opening minute of the third period.
Pajusovs regained the lead for Team Lebanon in the next minute but it was short lived as Mikhael Klimin struck seconds later to level it again at 3-3.
The game turned hostile towards the end and Team Lebanon’s Majed Madi and Mathew Darwish were both sent off for misconduct.
Zainutdinov scored with just over two minutes remaining to put Storms ahead and then Masleniau Yaraslau fired a long-range shot when the visitors played without goalkeeper Alec Sader, who had an outstanding game with several excellent saves.