Month: September 2017 (page 1 of 3)

Morocco dominates at the Development Cup

By National Teams of Ice Hockey

The Moroccan national hockey team was on the ice against the national team of Andorra in the first game of two today at 2017 Development Cup.  

The Moroccan team won 9-3 to qualify for the finals tomorrow. 

The Moroccan national team held its second game of the day against the Portuguese team.
The game was dominated by Morocco who scored 7 consecutive goals before Portugal scored there first goal of the game. The Moroccan team followed by scoring 4 more goals and the match ended
11-2 for Morocco and ended a perfect round robin portion of the tournament by going 3-0.

Morocco will play in the Gold medal game tomorrow against Ireland who also won both games today against Andorra and Portugal. 

The Bronze Medal game will pit Portugal against Andorra, Portugal won the first encounter against the hosts 3-2 in a dramatic shootout.


The Fighting Irish

Aaron Guli, Paul Cummins and Damien Roche defend against Morocco’s Redouan Bouhdid in front of Irish goalie Chris Devine

By Martin Merk –

Ireland had a short history of World Championship play at the lower levels between 2004 and 2013. While the shutdown of the Republic of Ireland’s last rink caused a meltdown for Irish ice hockey, enthusiasts fight to keep the Irish ice hockey family alive. 

“A few years after the closing of the rink nothing was really happening. Since the current executive board took over four-and-a-half years ago we started building up with youth hockey. The last two years we have been successful with senior hockey too,” said Aaron Guli, the President of the Irish Ice Hockey Association, who also serves as both player (although a soon-to-be-retired one as he added) and team manager for the men’s national team that currently plays at the 2017 Development Cup, an initiative of smaller IIHF members that established a tournament among themselves. 

“The level starts to pick up. We started with four teams, now we have 11 teams in the Cross-Border Cup,” he said. In that competition seven teams play from the Republic of Ireland and four from Northern Ireland (UK) with all games being played in the Belfast area in Northern Ireland. 

In Andorra the men’s national team plays for international honours for the first time in four years. While the other countries come from warmer places, Ireland geographically doesn’t exactly look like an exotic place for ice sports. The capital of Dublin is at a similar latitude like hockey places such as Astana, Berlin, Edmonton, Minsk, Saskatoon, Sheffield or Ufa. And then there were players of Irish heritage in the NHL. And in the state of Indiana, USA, the University of Notre Dame’s sports teams are nicknamed the “Fighting Irish”, including their NCAA ice hockey team. 

However, opposed to all these places the Republic of Ireland just has lacked an ice rink for the past seven years. And that’s obviously a major problem to keep the sport striving. 

“Mismanagement with too many owners led to the closure in 2010. The arena is not used anymore but the boards and the Zamboni are still there. There’s a business plan ready to meet for a possible re-opening,” he said about the former ice rink in Dunedin. 

The first games in Ireland were played in the ‘80s and the Irish Ice Hockey Association joined the IIHF in 1996. The country got a permanent full-size rink in 2006 with the Dundalk Ice Dome that also hosted the 2007 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III. A sell-out crowd of 1,522 saw how Ireland beat Luxemburg 4-3 in shootout to earn promotion to the Division II level for one year. In 2010 the Irish earned promotion again a few weeks before the rink halfway between the country’s capital of Dublin and the Northern Irish capital of Belfast shut its doors. 

The national team couldn’t keep momentum and hasn’t played in the World Championship program since 2013. Once there were 1,100 players in the Republic of Ireland. Without an ice rink many quit the sport or turned to inline hockey. According to Guli 400 players are still active and play ice hockey in exile in the Belfast area. Belfast is a little less than two hours away by car from the Irish capital of Dublin and about one hour from the former hockey town of Dundalk. 

“We started a recreational league, now the national team players get 15 games a season,” Guli said. 

Most players come from the Republic of Ireland while goaltender Chris Devine is from Northern Ireland, Ian Courtney plays in London, England, 2000-born Thomas Carpenter for Swiss fourth-tier team HC Chateau d’Oex and Declan Weir for German minor-league team EA Schongau. Two players (Paul Cummins, Niall McEvoy) played for the senior national team in IIHF play and Vytautas Lukosevicius, who emigrated to Ireland in 2007, represented his native country Lithuania at Division I level until 2004. 

To get back to former heights, the IIHA is not only in discussion with the Dundalk ice rink owners but also for a new rink in the country’s capital. 

“We are talking with potential investors for a rink in Dublin. We met with them and with Sport Ireland. The investors are looking for 2,500 seats to put in a professional team,” Guli said. Professional team, that would ideally mean one playing in the top British contest, the Elite Ice Hockey League. And a possible derby with the Northern Irish neighbours. “The Belfast Giants would love it!” Guli said. 

Until then the Irish try to grow the program with playing in exile. 

“We keep the kids going so that there’s a clear pathway now. That’s why we pushed with the Development Cup that we have a senior national team going for them to look up to,” Guli said. 

The Irish had a rough start against Morocco, 10-2, but then beat both Portugal (9-4) and Andorra (5-3) on Saturday to set up a final against Morocco. The level was quite different. As Guli said, the game against Morocco was the first one with body-checking for some of the players in several years. 

“We battled hard. Unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the score line. All three lines gave it a 110 per cent. I couldn’t ask for more,” Nigel Smeaton, the Cyprus-born Irish head coach who currently lives and plays in Dubai, said after the game. 

For Smeaton development is the key. “We have young players. This squad will eventually feed the senior World Championship squad in the future,” Smeaton said. 

After the two wins against the southern European competitors, the Irish hope for revenge on Sunday in the final against Morocco. Portugal and Andorra will play for third place. 

Olympics could be hot topic in next round of NHL CBA talks

The Associated Press

Going to the Olympics was a life-changing experience for T.J. Oshie, a shootout star for the United States against Russia in Sochi.

Oshie and dozens, if not hundreds, of NHL stars are disappointed they won’t get a chance to do it again at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. He would like to ensure Olympic participation in the future – but not at any cost.

”To what end, like what we would have to give up?” Oshie said. ”Now you’re talking about an entire league of players and families potentially losing out on whatever it would be. … What we’d be giving up would affect everybody. It’s a tough talk.”

Because Olympic participation wasn’t written into the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2013, the decision rested with NHL owners, who decided against going to Pyeongchang after the league participated in the previous five Games. With the first chance for players or owners to opt out of the CBA now two years away, the Olympics, escrow payments and the draft age look like they are bound to be among the hot topics.

NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr said owners choosing to skip the 2018 Olympics ”is a thorn, is a sore” for players and is ”not going to be forgotten.”

”I think it is clearly something the players are going to want to think long and hard about when they get to the point of formulating their positions,” Fehr said. ”I would not be at all surprised if they wanted to make this an issue around which they felt very strongly in terms of the overall agreement because you have to remember that while it’s true that roughly a fifth of the players play in any particular set of Games, everyone would like the opportunity to go.”

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin said not going to the Olympics ”kind of makes you angry.” Seguin added: ”We’re going to have to figure something out for future players and for our future in general as a game.”

The future of the game likely will involve increased international events that help grow revenue and spread hockey’s influence around the world. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks recently played in Shanghai and Beijing, site of the 2022 Olympics, with the NHL attempting to make inroads in China.

The NHL and NHLPA staged the return of the World Cup of Hockey last year in Toronto, and the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators will play two games in Sweden in November.

Fehr said the NHL has ”for some time now indicated a lot more interest in China” than in Korea. But Commissioner Gary Bettman said in several meetings with Chinese businesses and government entities ”not one of them asked about the Olympics because what we’re doing isn’t about two weeks.”

The NHL is interested in China, and it wouldn’t hurt the players’ Olympic chances if Salt Lake City or Calgary lands the 2026 Winter Games, but the topic of ensuring participation is not an easy one for upcoming negotiations.

”For us to say that there’s a change of heart, there’s obviously going to have to be a change in circumstance, including how the (International Olympic Committee) and the (International Ice Hockey Federation) view our participation,” said Bettman, who noted that neither side is currently focused on reopening CBA talks.

”I have no idea what the Players’ Association will raise in that regard. But we were clear in the last round of bargaining that we needed the ability not to go to the Olympics because we understood how disruptive they are to the season.”

After 147 NHL players participated in Sochi, much of the reaction inside locker rooms to the NHL’s decision on Korea wasn’t positive. At the very least, a handful of players said they’d like to know in advance about the Olympics so it doesn’t come down to the wire like it did last time.

”I think it’s important that we address it so that it’s a done issue, whether it be that we’re not going or we’re going,” Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said. ”I don’t think we want to leave it open to interpretation every year that it goes on.”

One thing that hasn’t been open to interpretation since 2013 is players having some of their pay held in escrow to compensate for the 50/50 split of revenue with owners. Last season, players had 15.5 percent of their pay withheld and many have expressed displeasure with the system.

Fehr said changes could be made to the escrow system, but added that it has always been his view that salary caps ”cause all kinds of problems.” The NHL and NHLPA instituted the salary cap coming out of the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out a season, and Bettman is proud of the competitive balance it has created.

”That’s why we fought so hard and we were committed to getting a system that would enable all of our teams to be competitive,” Bettman said.

Another topic that is likely to spark conversation is raising the draft age from 18 to 19. Former player and current NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider said it can be a positive but knows there are challenges to changing it like the NBA did several years ago.

Fehr, who was executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1985-2009 and has headed the NHLPA for the past seven years, said preparations for the next round of bargaining will ramp up after the executive board meeting next summer. With plenty of conversations left to have, he thinks it’s too early to tell what will be the central issues when push comes to shove.

”You can make guesses, you can sometimes make educated guesses and every so often you’re going to be right,” Fehr said. ”But it’s a chancy prospect.”

Portugal Wins First Ever Ice Hockey Game

By Steve Ellis –

The 2017 Development Cup saw Portugal win their first ever ice hockey game against another international team, beating Andorra in their debut 3-2 on Friday in Andorra.

It was a big game for Portugal, who were trailing 2-1 after two periods of play. Ludovic Blasi Gazeres scored the first ever goal for Andorra in international play, with Christian Moreno Escriva getting credit for the assist.

Andorra would score a second goal on the power play. This time, Louison Courcol would score his first in international play, doubling up their lead at 2-0.

But the game was all Portugal from there on out. In the second  Christopher Leite scored the first goal for Portugal in international play when he scored off of a Kevin Hortinha pass on the power play, cutting Andorra’s lead in half.

Sylvain Rodrigues, a player playing in France, would tie the game up at two apiece in the third, giving Portugal more life. late in the game, Portugal would score another one when Matthew de Melo scored the winning goal on the first penalty shot to take the lead late, giving the visiting squad their first ever victory in an international tournament.

Exotic gathering in Andorra

The Palau de Gel in Andorra will host the inaugural Development Cup with the national teams from Andorra, Ireland, Morocco and Portugal starting on Friday night.

By Martin Merk –

Andorra hasn’t been your usual place for international ice hockey tournaments. But at the 2017 Development Cup you don’t have your usual national teams either as Andorra, Ireland, Morocco and Portugal will play a four-team tournament between what one could call exotic ice hockey countries. 

The teams, and others that discussed a participation, come from countries that are not part of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. In that program national teams are expected to have a background of competitive ice hockey at home to enable them to play competitive games in their World Championship division. The IIHF Statutes & Bylaws require minimum participation standards in terms of having a big enough pool of players domestically, a development program, a national championship of a certain size and having at least one permanent international-size ice rink in its territory to be able to play the ice hockey according to the official rules. 

One of the initiators is Aaron Guli, the President of the Irish Ice Hockey Association. 

“About two years ago I came up with the concept of doing something for non-competing IIHF countries. I contacted these countries and Morocco was one of the first to get back to me. At the 2016 IIHF Annual Congress in Moscow I met the other countries face to face and Aleix Manosas from Andorra got involved straight away. We were looking originally at a location in Germany and then Aleix said they had an Olympic-size rink and organized for us to use that location,” Guli said about how the vision became reality. 

“We spoke to some other countries but finances played a big part why they couldn’t come. But we have an interest from other countries like Greece, Armenia, Argentina and Brazil.” 

Other smaller European hockey countries with a smaller program that are currently not part of the World Championship program include Bosnia & Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Liechtenstein and Moldova. 

Andorra was the natural choice as a host since it’s the only of the four participating countries with an international-size ice rink, the 1,500-seat Palau de Gel with a 60-on-30-metre ice sheet located in Canillo in the north of the small country nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. 

In fact, the Palau de Gel (“Ice Palace” in Catalan) once hosted an IIHF event, the 1997 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship D-Pool. However, Andorra was not a participant and Spain the home team in the event won by Croatia. 

“We were talking with other non-full members of the IIHF at the Congress and the idea of such a tournament was born. I met a lot of hockey lovers and people who wanted to do new things. Two of them were Aaron Guli from Ireland and Adil El Farj from Morocco. In the beginning of 2017 the conversations between Morocco, Ireland and Andorra restarted. The Andorran Ice Sport Federation wants to develop ice hockey and I thought that this could be a good opportunity,” said Aleix Manosas, the President of the country’s only ice hockey club Andorra Hoquei Gel and Vice President of the Andorran Ice Sports Federation. 

“With the help of the federation, the ice rink management and the Town Hall, we had the agreement to host this international tournament for the first time. Andorra is a little but multicultural place. There are a lot of different communities, and the Portuguese are one of the biggest. Andorra has good relations with Portugal and we thought that could be nice to invite them too. Their answer was positive very soon so we were four teams. Once this process has begun, some other countries started to follow us and probably the next Development Cup edition is going to be formed by three or four more nations. 

“Andorra is very proud to host this first ever Development Cup and we are sure that it will help to make grow ice hockey in all the countries participating. For the first time, Andorra has a national team, and the local media has their eyes on us. This last weekend of September is going to be very important for the four countries and we will compete and, for sure, enjoy the Cup.” 

Like the hosts the other nations have small programs, but no full-size ice rink or even no rink at all in their country but hope to raise awareness and experience by participating in the tournament. And they hope to make this premiere an event played and organized annually between national ice hockey associations like other events in the calendar at higher levels such as the Euro Hockey Tour or the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. 

“To really help kickstart our programs we need an event like this, something for our players, particularly our younger player. Being able via our website and social media to show our national team is playing at an international event gives a large amount of interest in the country and I think it will help our countries and sport authorities to take notice that we will take our sport,” said Guli, who will also put on his skates to represent Ireland. 

On Friday and Saturday the four teams will have a dense schedule with six round-robin games followed by the medal games on Sunday. Playing the event in fewer days than usual in international hockey will save the teams with limited funding some costs. 

According to Guli the teams will try “as best as we possibly can” to stick to IIHF eligibility rules when it comes to players with two citizenship’s but also allow few exceptions since some of the countries have a tough time assembling enough players. 

“For example I have a player born and raised in Lithuania [IIHF linesman Vytautas Lukosevicius] but he officially transferred to Ireland seven years ago and is married to an Irish woman and is in the process of getting the passport. He wouldn’t be eligible yet but we allow a few exceptions of that nature. There may be some foreign-born players at other teams too but once the countries have a rink there will be a stronger base for more players,” Guli explained. 

And who’s the favourite to win the tournament? The teams are cautious on that question. 

“Andorra has a good team and wants to win this Cup. It’s going to be hard, but not impossible. In a few days we will know the final scores,” said Manosas. 

“My personal feeling is that anyone can win. Nobody of us particularly knows the level of the other teams. I think we’ll have a very strong chance, I feel confident about our team but I’ve never seen any of the other teams play,” Guli added. 

The organizers will post live scores and delayed game videos on their Facebook page.

Ice ladies eager to put women hockey on the global map

Image result for Ice ladies eager to put women hockey on the global map

By Fahd Shefaqa – Kuwait New Agency

Pushing themselves beyond their limits on a hard freezing surface of the skating rink, members of the national women’s ice hockey team have set their minds on honorably representing Kuwait at regional and international  tournaments. 

Marking October 31st on their calenders, Kuwait “ice ladies” who recently formed their team with the support of Kuwait Winter Sport Federation  – – said that they would stop at nothing to attain recognition from the global ice hockey community during their participation in an international tournament in Thailand. 

Bearing witness to the devotion and sacrifice of the Kuwait women ice hockey team, Manger Reham Najaf told KUNA that though the unofficial origins of the team date bake to 2007, they got a strong boost from the federation through the formation of the national squad and unconditional financia support. There are around 56 women athletes registered so far, she said.

Manager Reham Najaf

Manger Reham Najaf

The upcoming international tournament in Thailand (Land of Smiles 2017) will be the first testing ground for the players who are giving it all during the preparations, said Najaf who indicated that the federation showed keenness to develop the team’s skills via holding training camp in the Czech Republic in preparation for the tournament.

While manger Najaf could speak about the administrative aspects of the game, team captain Rawan Al-Bahhou and her teammates are the ones who will fend off the pucks from getting inside Kuwait goal and they are also the ones responsible for drawing smiles on people faces once they score.  Playing ice hockey is a dream come true and I cannot imagine a better thing to do, said Al-Bahhou enthusiastically. 

Team captain Rawan Al-Bahhou

Team Captain Rawan Al-Bahhou

The team is ready to take on other squads who are far more experienced and disciplined, she affirmed, adding that the participation in Thailand was not only about winning, but rather making a statement Kuwait women are ready and willing to square off against the best of the best.

Not to be outdone by the captain of the team, teammate Aisha Al-Diweli said that her squad was not less important then the male national team who have performed very well in recent regional tournaments. 

The relative young age of the women’s team, 20 years and below, and the players willingness to compete will have an impact on the future of the Kuwait national women team, said Al-Diweli.

The Team, through “blood and sweat”, will gain respect of their international peers and the upcoming tournament will provide a chance just to do that, she affirmed.

Teammate Aisha Al-Diweli

Teammate Aisha Al-Diweli

New Generation of Asian-American Hockey Players Go Pro After Historic NHL Draft

Image: Nick Suzuki puts on the Vegas Golden Knights jersey during the 2017 NHL draft

Nick Suzuki puts on the Vegas Golden Knights jersey after being selected
13th overall during the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago on June 23, 2017.

By Sheng Peng

Suzuki and Yamamoto are not names that show up often on the back of National Hockey League (NHL) jerseys.

But teenagers Nick Suzuki and Kailer Yamamoto — both picked in the first round of June’s 2017 NHL draft in Chicago — may be the start of a new trend.

This year’s draft was historic, with Suzuki, Yamamoto, and Jason Robertson plucked in the first two rounds, the most Asian Americans to ever go that high in a single NHL draft according to William Douglas, a journalist from The Color of Hockey, which tracks diversity in the sport.

“Asian-American players have gone high in the NHL draft before,” Douglas told NBC News. “But this is a first time that you’ve had such a cluster of players drafted in the early rounds.”

Sooner than later, this might become the norm. As the Asian population has grown in United States and Canada, more and more Asian kids have taken up ice hockey, according to a team executive.

During the 2015-2016 season, 983 players appeared in a regular season NHL game, according to statistics from Just four of them — Matt Dumba, Devin Setoguchi, Jujhar Khaira, and Joshua Ho-Sang — appear to be of Asian descent.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of players who have Asian heritage,” Mike Oke — general manager of the Peterborough Petes, which play in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) — said. The OHL is one of the NHL’s primary feeder leagues.

“It’s definitely kind of a big step for the community,” Suzuki, who was selected 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights and scored a goal in the new franchise’s first pre-season game in September, told NBC News.

Suzuki grew up in London, Ontario, a city halfway between Toronto and Detroit.

According to his father, Suzuki’s great-grandparents immigrated to Canada in 1909 and were incarcerated along with Suzuki’s grandfather in Kaslo, British Columbia, during World War II.

“From a Canadian perspective, some of the hockey players today, their parents immigrated to Canada, either as young teens or as adults, and therefore, weren’t exposed to the game of hockey at a young age,” Oke, the hockey executive, said. “Whereas now, the second and third generation of individuals who immigrated have been born and raised and inundated with the game of hockey.”

“I’m glad we’re getting our culture out,” Yamamoto, whose name was called by the Edmonton Oilers with the 22nd pick, said.

According to Yamamoto’s father, three generations of Yamamotos were born and raised in Spokane, Washington, including Kailer and himself. Before the Yamamotos settled in the Pacific Northwest, Saichi Yamamoto immigrated from Okinawa to Hawaii, meeting his wife Momoyo. Both Saichi and Momoyo Yamamoto were incarcerated during World War II.

Image: Kailer Yamamoto puts on his jersey after being selected 22nd overall by the Edmonton Oilers during the NHL draft

Kailer Yamamoto puts on his jersey after being selected 22nd overall by the Edmonton Oilers
during Round One of the 2017 NHL draft in Chicago on June 23, 2017.

Unlike Nick Suzuki and Kailer Yamamoto, Jason Robertson, whose mother is of Filipino descent, did not grow up in a hockey hotbed. He was born and raised in the city of Arcadia in Southern California.

“I love hockey, I want everybody to be part of it,” Robertson, who went 39th overall to the Dallas Stars, said.

“From an American perspective, the sport has really outgrown what used to be the traditional pockets. In the past, hockey was typically played in some of the colder climate states,” Oke noted. “But now, with the expansion of the NHL into the southern climes such as California and Nevada and Arizona and Texas and Florida — you have people in those particular areas, for the first time, able to participate from a young age.”

Combined, those states have an Asian-American population of more than six million people, according to data from the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly a third of the country’s Asian-American population.

Image: Jason Robertson talks with representatives from the Dallas Stars after being selected by the team during the second round of the 2017 NHL hockey draft

Jason Robertson, left, talks with representatives from the Dallas Stars after being selected by the
team during the second round of the 2017 NHL hockey draft, in Chicago on June 24, 2017.

For each prospect, the prejudice that trailblazing Asian NHL’ers like Larry “King” Kwong and Jim Paek suffered was not something they dealt with.

“It’s been a coast for me,” Yamamoto said, smiling. “Everywhere I’ve gone, people have treated me with utmost respect.”

“Whoever you are, whatever you are, it all comes down to hard work and dedication,” Robertson said.

But at least one aspect of their careers is similar to Kwong and Paek. Each is proud of being an example for Asian-American kids who don’t have a lot of role models in the sport.

“It’s definitely a big opportunity,” acknowledged Suzuki. “I want to show everybody you can do it, no matter what.”

They’re already influencing their siblings: 16-year-old Ryan Suzuki and 15-year-old Nick Robertson were both selected in the first round of the most recent OHL Priority Selection, held on April 8. This junior-level draft is often a precursor to the NHL edition.

So it’s possible there will be more Suzukis, Yamamotos, and Robertsons banging down the door of the NHL soon.

“This isn’t a one-shot deal,” Douglas, the journalist, said.

Suzuki concurs, “There’s definitely a lot [of Asians] coming up.

Abu Dhabi Storms aim to be a finishing school for UAE’s best hockey players

Coach Matti Fagerstrom trains youngsters during a practice session of the Abu Dhabi Storm. Chris Whiteoak / The National

By Amith Passela – The National

As Emirates Hockey League resumes in October, Juma Al Dhaheri is determined to win a third title, but the bigger picture includes developing Emirati talent.

Teams in the EHL

White Bears, Al Ain Theebs, Dubai Mighty Camels, Abu Dhabi Storms, Abu Dhabi Scorpions and Vipers

Even as they get ready to chase a third Emirates Hockey League (EHL) title when the season kicks off next month, the Abu Dhabi Storms will be using the competition to develop upcoming Emirati players.

UAE captain Juma Al Dhaheri, who also leads the Storms – a side comprising of mostly UAE players – has said that the primary objective since the EHL was founded in 2009 has been to deepen the talent pool.

“Obviously our aim is to win the title and if we can achieve that, it’s a bonus for us. But the emphasis really is on the development of the national team,” said Al Dhaheri, who is also general secretary of the UAE Ice Hockey Federation.

“This season we have a few youngsters, and the plan is to provide them as much exposure as we can.”

Al Dhaheri also hailed the clubs for their commitment to raising the bar every year.

“The league was at a good level from the time it was founded,” the forward said. “The league consists of several expatriate players from established hockey playing nations in the teams. They bring load and loads of experience to the league.

“The EHL was founded on the recommendations of the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation] with whom we are working closely to develop the sport in the region.

“The teams can employ three professional or semi-professional players,” he pointed out. “The EHL is widely regarded as the best national league in Asia. Our objective is to keep improving it all the time.”

Such has been the quality of competition that as many as five teams have won the title over the past eight years.

The Dubai Mighty Camels lifted the trophy three times and the Storms twice. The Al Ain Vipers, the inaugural champions, the Dubai Oilers and the White Bears won once each.

Last season was a good one for the Dubai-based White Bears, not just because they won the league, but also due to the fact they went on a record 10-match winning streak. It was a run that included a 2-0 triumph over Al Ain Theebs in the best-of-three finals.

As the new season gets underway when the White Bears visit the Garden City to take on the Theebs on October 2, player-coach Troy Kahler is confident about their title defence.

“As the champions, we are very excited for the action to begin,” the Ontario native said.

“We have some new players crossing over from the Vipers and some arriving from Sweden, so we are going to look a little different from the last season.

“The team looks younger with quite a few youth players in the side. We started our training eight weeks ago and are fully committed to retain our hold of the league title.”

Al Dhaheri is also looking forward to the all-round development of the sport in the UAE. “The President’s Cup in November [14-17] is one of the major events we have been hosting,” he said.

“We invite four overseas teams to play against two local sides. This time we have invited a team each from Egypt and Lebanon, both comprising former players from the NHL and other established leagues from around the world.”

Other upcoming events include the Bangkok Land of Smiles tournament from October 28 to November 1 and the Belarus International men’s competition from January 4-7.

There will be key tournaments to look forward to in March: the women’s team feature in the Challenge Cup of Asia and the youth side play in the U20 Challenge Cup of Asia.

The highlight, however, will be the senior team’s participation in the World Championship Qualification Division 3 competition in Turkmenistan.

Canadian hockey teams open Olympic gold medal defences versus Switzerland, Russia


The International Ice Hockey Federation released the ice hockey schedules and matchups Monday for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea — the first Winter Games that will not feature NHL players since 1994.

Canada opens defence of its Olympic men’s hockey gold Feb. 15 versus Switzerland and women’s gold Feb. 11 against Russia.

The International Ice Hockey Federation released the ice hockey schedules and matchups Monday for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Canada’s women, who are currently training full-time in Calgary, will try to extend the country’s run of gold to five in a row.

Canada will ice a team of non-NHL players in the men’s tournament for the first time since 1994. The league chose to skip next year’s Games.

The Canadian men take on the Czech Republic on Feb. 17 and conclude the preliminary round in Pool A the following day against host South Korea.

Quarter-final games are Feb. 21 followed by the semifinals Feb. 23. The bronze-medal game is Feb. 24 and the gold-medal game Feb. 25 prior to the closing ceremonies.

Russia, the United States, Slovakia and Slovenia are in Pool B. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany make up Pool C.

Canada’s women face Finland on Feb. 13 and the archrival Americans on Feb. 15 in Pool A games.

The quarter-final matches are Feb. 17 followed by the semifinals Feb. 19. The bronze-medal game is Feb. 21 and the championship game is Feb. 22.

Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and host South Korea round out the women’s field.

Games will be played at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, which has a capacity of 10,000 spectators, and the 6,000-seat Kwangdong Hockey Centre.

Lebanon gets its own national hockey team — and it’s in Montreal

Claude Kfoury

Claude Kfoury, 39, proudly shows off the Lebanese cedar on his T-shirt,
his native country’s national symbol. Kfoury learned to
play hockey as
a teenager, when his family came to Canada. (CBC)

Elias Abboud – CBC News

Team is brainchild of Lebanese Montrealers who love the game, but players fly in from as far away as France

“Twenty bucks, guys,” says a player who’s just suited up in his hockey gear, as he makes his way around the locker room collecting his teammates’ contribution to pay for the ice time at  Montreal’s Collège Brébeuf arena.

It’s after 10 p.m.

Most of the guys are here after work, and they have to get up early the next morning to return to their jobs.

It’s a scene repeated at beer-league hockey games in arena locker rooms across the country.

These players, however, aren’t your average beer leaguers. They’re members of Lebanon’s first national ice hockey team.

Joe Bouhaidar, Frédéric Nassif

Joe Bouhaidar, left, and Frédéric Nassif, centre, suit up for practice at the Collège
Brébeuf arena. (CBC)

Canadian hockey players speak of the immense pride they feel when they pull on the maple leaf jersey to represent their country. The Lebanese players say they feel the same way about the cedar tree — the national symbol of Lebanon.

“I feel like someone gave me a mission, and this mission is to represent my country,” said winger Joe Bouhaidar.

Joe Bouhaidar

Joe Bouhaidar, 29, played Midget AAA hockey in Quebec City. He said he always wanted to
play for a national team. He just didn’t know it would be Lebanon’s. (CBC)

Bouhaidar, 29, was born in Quebec City and grew up playing hockey, reaching Midget AAA.

“Since I’m young, I always wanted to play for a national team,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a great honour to play for a team like Canada or U.S.A.

“When I heard [Lebanon] has a national team, I said I have to try myself there and give it all I got. I made the team, and I was pretty happy.”

‘I was just hooked’

Claude Kfoury, 39, didn’t lace up skates until his teen years. His family came to Canada in 1991 to escape the violence in their war-torn home country.

The defenceman remembers, soon after he arrived, watching the 1991 Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Minnesota North Stars.

“I was just hooked.”

Kfoury wanted to play right away. One problem: his family arrived in May.

“No more ice, no more snow,” said Kfoury. “The next winter, I was playing in the parks around Ville Saint-Laurent. I was on the ice for 10 hours a day. I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to eat. Since then, I hit it off and I haven’t stopped skating.”

Why not Lebanon?

The team was the brainchild of Ralph Melki and a group of friends — Lebanese Montrealers who loved the game.

Melki, now the team’s coach, said they realized other Middle Eastern and Arab teams have national teams. So why not Lebanon?

“We started something here in Canada, because there’s a lot of Lebanese in Quebec. There’s a lot of Lebanese that play the game, and this is how it all started,” said Melki.

Coach Ralph Melki

Ralph Melki, the Lebanon team’s coach, said the team’s goal is to be accepted into the
International Ice Hockey Federation. (CBC)

The group created a Facebook page, and word spread. At the first tryout last spring, 75 players came out.

There’s no formal structure. The team doesn’t even play in a league at the moment, instead arranging exhibition games against other national teams such as Egypt, Morocco, Haiti, Algeria.

Melki says Lebanon’s team has players coming in from Toronto, Ottawa, Michigan and France. Four players even flew in from Calgary for the team’s first game in April.

That game was a 7-4 win over Team Haiti — a group of Montrealers who grew up playing hockey much the way the Lebanese players did.

Since that first win against Haiti, the Lebanese national team has gone on to beat Egypt and Morocco. Tonight they play Algeria — a team made up of players of Algerian descent now living in France.

Melki says the team is aiming for a bigger stage — being accepted into the International Ice Hockey Federation. To accomplish that, the team needs the backing of the Lebanese government and proof that the country has at least one ice hockey rink and a league with teams.

No politics, no religion on the ice

Skating on the national team has done more than bring hockey players together from far and wide.

It has also bridged a stark cultural and political gap: the two prominent religions back home, Islam and Christianity, have long been a source for conflict.

Goalie Frédéric Nassif

Off the ice, Frédéric Nassif is a Montreal documentary producer. He plays goal for the
Lebanese national team. (CBC)

Once the players pull on their jerseys with the cedar tree on the front, political and religious differences are set aside.

“No one talks about it,” said Bouhaidar. “We look like a united team, and that’s what we like about it. I have fun with those guys. Now I’m chilling with those guys outside of the ice, and before I didn’t know them.”

“We’re all Lebanese, we all care about the cedar,” said Coach Melki. “So once they put that jersey on: ‘Be proud to represent your country.'”

Tonight’s matchup between Lebanon and Algeria takes place at Place Bell, 1950 Claude-Gagné Street in Laval.

Game time is 9:15 p.m. ET.

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