By Reem Daayysi – GDN Online
Bahrain’s third National Ice Hockey League is underway as the Riffa Maple Leafs prepare to take on the Isa Town Oilers on Tuesday (February 27) at 9pm followed by a clash between the Muharraq Predators and the Manama Capitals at 10pm at the Funland Ice Rink in Manama.
The league, sponsored by DHL in its third edition, started in 2013 and consists of four teams of Bahraini and non-Bahraini ice hockey players all vying for the league’s trophy, which continues until mid-April.
Although the Kingdom’s temperatures may reach boiling points during the summer, the group of 30 dedicated men still put on their heavy gear every week, grab their sticks and get onto the Ice rink united by their love for the contact sport.
“I was always passionate about Ice Hockey since I was a child whenever I watched it on television because I felt it combines three sports into one, it had football, sliding and also fighting,” said 40 year-old Bahrain Sharks Ice Hockey Team founder and manager Tamer Fakhro.
He was speaking to the GDN on the side-lines of a training session as he sharpened the steel blade on his ice skates.
“When I was five years old I thought it would be impossible to play Ice Hockey in Bahrain and it felt like such a far dream to reach in the back of my head,” he said.
Mr Fakhro has been playing ice hockey since 1993, and even though he took a break for five years during his college education in Cairo, his passion for the sport never stopped.
Although the sport was mostly practiced by expatriates at the time, Mr Fakhro dedicated himself over the years and achieved captaincy in 2009.
“I couldn’t believe it when former captain Andre Cote passed the captaincy down to me because he must have seen something in me that I didn’t know was there,” he added.
Mr Fakhro received three Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards during his hockey career, and has competed, along with his team, in several regional competitions where they were named champions in a few.
One of the first regional games the team played took place in Kuwait in 2010, where a random act of kindness carried out by Mr Fakhro further fuelled his passion and dedication to the sport.
“The game was the perfect opportunity for exposure, as members from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) were in the audience.”
“This was our chance to show them that there is a team playing the sport in Bahrain, even though we just got together as a team a month ago and did not have the appropriate training facilities,” he added.
Despite Mr Fakhro’s initial hesitation about participating in the game, the team got into their cars and drove to Kuwait to play the match.
During the game, the Kuwaiti team captain was injured in the third period and as the captain of the Bahrain team Mr Fakhro aided him in getting off the ice and onto the bench for treatment.
That sparked a positive response from the Kuwaiti audience who unusually started to cheer on the Bahraini team members.
“We were shocked because Kuwaiti audience naturally never cheer for anyone but Kuwait.”
“The reason I am still playing the sport today is because I want to promote the Bahraini sportsmanship culture and morals.”
Mr Fakhro praised and thanked the efforts of DHL Bahrain and DHL Express Middle East and North Africa chief executive officer Nour Suliman for his support and partnership with the Bahrain Sharks and Bahrain Ice Hockey League.
Bahrain Sharks goal keeper, 26 year-old Abdullah Al Hassan, has spent 12 years in the sport, however he originally started playing outfield before he discovered being a keeper was his passion.
“I was the third backup keeper for the team back in 2010 when we participated in a tournament in Qatar,” he said.
According to Mr Al Hassan, he was only 14 years-old when he attended this tournament and his purpose was to just watch and learn, never to participate.
However, during the first period the team’s first keeper was injured, followed by the second keeper conceding an injury in the second period.
This left the team no option but to resort to the young inexperienced goal keeper, Mr Al Hassan, who rose to the challenge.
“I could not believe it when we won first place after I subbed in for the original goal keepers and finished the remaining five games of the tournament,” he said.
“That tournament was one of my most memorable and interesting experiences in the game since I started playing, especially since I was only 14 and the team relied on me,” he added.
Fellow Bahrain Sharks goal keeper, 32 year-old Rashid Al Mutlaq, has also been goal keeper for the past 12 years.
According to Mr Al Mutlaq, onlookers usually assume that the goal keeper has the easiest job on the ice rink as he appears to just stand idly covering the goal.
“Our position is the toughest because we are constantly bending our knees at an inward angle and our gear is heavier than that of the rest of the players,” he said.
He stated that the gear weighs approximately seven to eight kilograms by the end of the game due to water absorption from sliding on the ice.
“We hope to create an official national team for the sport which allows us to compete internationally and win championships in Bahrain’s name,” he added.
The 4-a-side games are currently played on the ice rink in Funland, which is 15m x 30m, as opposed to official ice hockey rinks of 30m x 60m used for 6-a-side games.
The players hope that proper facilities can be introduced in Bahrain in the near future, especially since there is an increased interest in the sport especially among Bahraini youth and women.
Last week’s games saw Muharraq Predators grab a 10 goal win against Isa Town Oilers who scored eight goals, while the Riffa Maple Leafs locked in a four goal lead against Manama Capitals beating them 12 to eight.