By Liz Montroy – Womens Hockey Life
When Kuwait’s women’s hockey team makes its IIHF debut this April at the 2019 Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), it will be with a roster full of family connections. Included on the team are several sets of sisters, as well as a set of triplets.
“Almost all the team, they are sisters,” said captain Rawan Albahouh. “They have two sisters, three sisters, they all play together on the same team.”
In fact, familial connections seems to be a significant factor behind how Kuwait’s women’s program has grown since it was resurrected in 2017.
“Most players are family, sisters, cousins,” said head coach Meshal Alajmi, who has represented Kuwait on its men’s hockey team for over eight years.
Sharing the CCOA experience with family will no doubt be exciting for the women representing Kuwait in Division I of the tournament later this season, especially considering the fairly recent relaunch of the country’s women’s hockey program.
A program for female players was initially created in 2007, but consisted of only around 10 people and, lacking support, quickly ended. However, those players reunited in a second attempt to build a program in August of 2017.
Part of this relaunch involved sending Albahouh and women’s national team supervisor Laila Alkhbaz to the 2018 IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp. Albahouh learned about growing the sport in the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend segment, while Alkhbaz took part in the Leadership Development Program.
This professional development and the efforts of the players in the program seems to be paying off. The IIHF website lists Kuwait as having 203 female players—53 more than the 150 listed male players (also listed are 177 junior players).
However, similarly to other CCOA participants, Kuwait has struggled to find younger female goaltenders. The national team’s two goalies are two of the older members of the team at the ages of 26 and 32.
The country also has just one rink that they use for hockey, which is closed this January and February, meaning that the team is practicing off ice in preparation for the CCOA.
“In our country, it’s not a desert, but it’s hot. So we try to escape to cold places … [the rink] is an escape place,” Albahouh explained of the hockey venue, which the women’s program usually uses at least twice a week.
Albahouh is aware of the challenges she faces with trying to grow and play hockey in her country, but regardless is looking forward to representing Kuwait with her hockey family at the 2019 CCOA in Abu Dhabi.
“We hope to win something,” she said of playing against the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Mongolia. “We are furious to win or bring something for our country.”
Albahouh, who took up hockey after seeing another Kuwaiti girl playing it, is eager to share the game she loves with other girls and women, and hopes that participating in the CCOA will help open more doors.
“Once you [start playing], you cannot stop playing this sport.”