If your kids don’t feel like squeezing into their rash vests to partake in some beach-based athletics, there are plenty of other sports available here to satisfy their voracious little appetites. The diverse melting pot of nationalities we have in the Emirates inevitably means that expats bring with them their popular sports from their native lands, even if they come from colder climates. The Dubai Sandstorms are a group of enthusiastic ice hockey players who have succeeded in bringing this fast, exciting sport smack, bang and wallop a puck, right here to the desert.
The majority of kids involved are from ice-hockey loving countries, with at least half of those hailing from Canada. But according to Tracy Bischoff, the Club President and ‘devoted hockey mother’, they also have players from Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Russia and the UK. Dubai Sandstorms have been going for at least 15 years now and follow the NHL rules, with youngsters accepted from four years of age up to 17 or 18, as long as the kids are still in school.
Starting the little ones off with penguin balancing aids at the beginning of the new season in September, they very soon progress to skating around confidently and even playing games within just a few short months.
The season runs from September to March, then spring hockey takes over from April to June. Leagues are split into groups according to age rather than ability, with names like Tykes, Bantams and Peewee, so that that by the time most of the children have risen through the division ranks they are incredibly skilled at racing around the ice, chasing the puck and wielding a stick.
There are around 183 members in total with roughly 32 kids per division and a minimum of 12 kids on a team – although there are only ever five players on the ice at a time, plus the goalie. There’s a centre, two forwards and two defenders on each team and the lines switch during the game to allow everyone a good amount of time on the ice, as well as to rest the players from the action (so that’s what the box on the side of the rink is for!). Substitutions happen so quickly that play doesn’t even stop. There’s no set time to swap the players over but we’re told ‘the kids just sense when it’s time to switch’.
The games are fast, furious and thrilling to watch and the kids that are involved have skating and ice hockey running through their veins – it seems to have been passed down in their genes. But that doesn’t mean that the sport is closed off to any budding little ice-hockey enthusiast who wanders in off the street. However, if an older kid wants to become involved, he or she will have to make sure they are pretty competent skaters before they are allowed (or would want) to join in a game. There’s no room for side holders and wobblers in these teams.
The skating is swift, skilled and super-speedy, with players performing manoeuvres that would make a figure skater quake in their lace-ups. Although granted, they are not as graceful but maybe that’s more to do with the padding. They certainly have all the gear and are properly protected, especially the goalie.
‘The best thing for a kid to do if they want to start to play is just to get out there on the ice and learn to skate. When they can do that, then they should get in touch with us at the start of the season and become a member,’ advises Tracy.
It’s not only boys who play. ‘We do have a few girls on each team, around three or four. Unfortunately there are not enough to make up an entire team, so they usually have to play on teams with the boys,’ she adds.
The Sandstorms usually play against each other but tournaments are organised with teams from Qatar, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi and the kids sometimes get the chance to travel to Switzerland or Sweden to compete.
Training is at Al Nasr rink once during the week for an hour, the smaller kids are given the earlier evening slots, and games take place on the weekends, usually at Dubai Mall Ice Rink. Hockey parents have no lie-ins on Fridays and Saturdays, with three groups playing each day starting on the ice from 7.30am onwards. So if you’re more used to cold weather sports as opposed to hot, then there’s nothing like donning your winter clothes, wrapping your hands round a steaming mug of hot chocolate and shivering in the stands watching an ice hockey game to remind you of home.
For more information, visit www.eteamz.com/dubaisandstorm or call Tracy Bischoff on 050 456 9267.