By Amith Passela – The National
Having won the Ice Hockey President’s tournament twice since it was established two years ago, the Belarus President’s Team have returned with hopes of retaining their stronghold on the title.
It will not be easy for them, though, as the bar has been raised considerably higher, with the local side Abu Dhabi Storms adding to their squad six Slovakians who have featured in both the National Hockey League (NHL) and Euro Hockey League (EHL).
Participating for the first time are two select teams from the established hockey nations Czech Republic and Georgia, and the other local entry Emirates Hockey League All Stars.
The action on Tuesday night’s opening round at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink will be between the Czech Republic and Georgia, followed by the Storms versus Emirates Hockey League All Stars.
“It is part of our continuing efforts to raise the level of the competitions we plan to stage here in the Emirates,” said Hamad Al Shariyani, director of the Abu Dhabi Ice Sports Club.
“This competition also provides the local players with the opportunity to brush shoulders with some of those who have prominently featured in both NHL and EHL. It is the first time such a high-quality tournament is taking place in the country.”
The Storms, a team made up of a majority UAE hockey internationals, have strengthened their squad by including Miroslav Satan, Peter Bondra, Richard Lintner, Lubomir Visnovsky, Rastislav Pavlikovsky and Andrej Nedorost.
The Belarus President’s Team have quite a few players of the same calibre who have been behind their success on both appearances.
“This is a high-level competition and we need to raise our own bar to compete with such teams,” said Juma Al Dhaheri, the captain of both Storms and UAE national team.
“To play alongside such high-profile players is going to be a great opportunity. We are looking forward to this competition, and regardless of the results, we can learn from the experience.
“Barring the EHL [Emirates Hockey League] All Stars, the teams from the Czech Republic and Georgia are unknown quantities. But we all know they are established hockey nations. So, we expect them to be top quality teams.”