Camels get first swipe at the Vipers

The Dubai side make the most of advantage and absence of the rival side's captain to go one up in the best-of-three finals over Al Ain.

DUBAI // Home advantage suited the Dubai Camels last night, as they defeated the Al Ain Vipers 5-3 in the opening game of the best-of-three Emirates Ice hockey League finals at Dubai's Al Nasr Leisureland rink. Having fallen behind to a power-play goal from Kevin Emore early on, the Camels - who stayed 1-0 down throughout a tetchy first 15 minutes - upped the tempo in the second period. A goal from Kyle Hyland, a fine strike by assistant captain Jamie Nelson and a Mack Irving shot swung the balance the way of the hosts, before the Vipers' Mike Merriman finished off a flowing move to bring the underdogs back to within one. With Vipers goaltender Michael Jabri-Pickett repelling frequent Camels attacks, his opposite number Christian Montpetit, who excelled throughout, was floored twice - once when he took a puck straight to the helmet and again when he collided with a teammate - as the country's top two teams tussled for ascendency.

A stop-and-start game was marred by both teams' indiscipline as numerous players were sin-binned for misconduct. The ultra-competitive encounter threatened to boil over on the narrow playing surface, before Hyland scored his second goal, the Camels fourth, moments into the final period. Camels captain Ron Murphy's slap-shot past Jabri-Picket made it five. "They got a good goal in the first period, but we battled hard and got our rewards," said Murphy. "They were playing catch-up and we overpowered them and kept rolling." The visitors badly missed captain Ahmed Hennawi, who sat out the game for personal reasons, and although Brian Slattery netted a late consolation, the Vipers will need to win Monday's second leg to take the series to a deciding match in Abu Dhabi on March 3.