The Emirates Hockey League starts on October 4. Time Out takes a look at the scene
Dubai’s hot, dusty environs make sport of any kind a challenge, most of all ice hockey. This said, Dubai is a city of ski slopes and air-conditioned city-sized malls, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that ice hockey is played here. What is surprising, however, is just how popular it is. ‘There’s been hockey here since 1979,’ says Ron Murphy, chairman of Dubai Mighty Camels ice hockey club. ‘Obviously it was very low-key – even when I got here in 1999, there were only about 50 or 60 guys who played.’
Still, that’s not a bad turnout considering most of the country is covered in desert. Ron says the Dubai Mighty Camels, set up in 1994, was originally more of a social group than a sports club – a means by which ice hockey fans could get together and get on the ice. ‘As soon as Dubai took off, so did hockey. We’ve got close to 200 people who play in the league now,’ explains Ron. ‘The growth is not so much because of what we’ve done – we don’t really advertise and members tend to hear about us through word of mouth – but it’s a novelty to have hockey in the desert.’
This novelty has been a great help to the club, and the idea of playing hockey in the desert has long lured touring teams to Dubai. The Camels also host an annual tournament that has been running for almost 20 years, attracting teams from across the world. But it’s not just teams from abroad that are taking an interest in the game. Local enthusiasm has skyrocketed since the UAE Ice Hockey Federation founded the Emirates Hockey League last year. The new season begins this week, on October 4, and the 16-game league features five teams: Dubai Mighty Camels, Abu Dhabi Vipers, Abu Dhabi Scorpions, Abu Dhabi Storm, and Al Ain Theebs – the latter two teams composed entirely of Emiratis.
‘The EHL is a step up from the regular hockey that we normally play,’ says Ron. ‘The UAE has been very good at expanding hockey among locals. They have camps to promote hockey among local kids and two pro coaches from Finland who actually coach the national team in Abu Dhabi. When I first got here, the Emirati players were definitely gung-ho and excited to play, but they didn’t have the coaching. Now they have, they’ve come along way. And they compete nationally as well – they compete in the Asian division of the International Ice Hockey Federation Competition, and they’ve done well – they won the Asia Cup.’
When not competing in the EHL, the Dubai Mighty Camels runs its own seven-team league at Al Nasr Leisureland. Games aren’t quite as long as NHL games (two periods rather than three), but there are six players on the ice at all times, with squads consisting of up to 20 people. The Camels can also look forward to young talent gracing their ranks this season now that some of the younger players have graduated from the Dubai Sandstorms – the city’s junior ice hockey club. ‘It’s great that we have some sons and dads playing in the same league,’ says Ron. This fact alone will ensure that this season’s competition will be fiercer than ever.
How do I get involved?
The Dubai Mighty Camels welcome new players, but stress that previous ice hockey experience is required. Membership costs Dhs1,750 (includes team jersey and ice time in a 24-game schedule). Alternatively, you can enjoy the game from the stands. The Dubai Mighty Camels start their EHL campaign against Abu Dhabi Storm on Wednesday 6 at Al Nasr Leisureland at 8.30pm. Usually, if you say that you’re there to watch the hockey, you’ll be let in for free – on the odd occasion you’re not, you’ll be charged just Dhs10. For details, call Ron on 050 450 0180, visit the Mighty Camels Facebook page or see www.dubaimightycamels.com
Get your skates on!
Before you join a hockey team, you’ll need to learn to skate…
Al Nasr Leisureland This complex in Oud Metha has two Ukrainian ice-skating coaches – Luda teaches figure skating (classes are better suited to more advanced skaters), while Antonina teaches beginners. Classes cost Dhs70; times depend on the availability of the coaches. To book, call Al Nasr Leisureland (04 337 1234), Luda (050 686 0250), or Antonina (050 246 2997)
Dubai Ice Rink Dubai’s largest and most well-known rink offers skating classes for all levels. A half-hour private lesson costs Dhs150, while five group lessons (one half-hour lesson plus two hours’ free skating time over the course of five weeks) cost Dhs500. To book, call 04 448 5111
Galleria Ice Skating Resident instructors Patricia from Germany and Michelle from the Philippines are on hand to guide you to ice-skating glory. Patricia coaches more advanced skaters, while Michelle helps beginners find their feet. Five 15-minute lessons cost Dhs250, while five 30-minute lessons cost Dhs500. For info, call 04 209 6550