WASHINGTON 10 February 2018: A visit by the UAE women’s ice-hockey team to the US capital for a programme of activities with the US Capitals men’s team is attracting attention from the media and from US fans.
A headline on a Washington Post feature late yesterday read simply: “When UAE women’s hockey team visits Capitals, ‘it’s just amazing.’ The Capitals are a top-ranking team in the US National Hockey League, NHL, said Wam.
“Through a confluence of chance meetings, corporate partnerships, NHL social-outreach initiatives and the sheer power of a great story to transcend borders and cultures, the 17 members of the UAE team traveled 7,000 miles this week to see what their sport looks like at its ultimate level, to tell the world what it looks like from their own humble vantage point and perhaps to bridge the vast gap between the two,” the Washington Post reported. “The team, which spent Thursday at the Capitals’ training headquarters, will participate in the ceremonial puck-drop at Capital One Arena before Friday night’s game and will continue on to appearances in Chicago and Ottawa next week.”
“We’re hockey players somewhere in the middle of the desert,” the report quoted Mariam Al Ameri as saying. Mariam, who plays on the right wing for the UAE team, and who studied in Canada, another country where ice-hockey is a popular sport, went on to say: “And not only that we’re women playing hockey. So it makes me so proud that women from my country are setting a goal of becoming hockey players and are not only achieving it but are getting something as great as this out of it.”
For the UAE players, the visit provides an opportunity not only to meet some of the world’s top players, but also to practice with and learn from them. Comments in the Washington Post story reflect some of that excitement, with Mariam Al Ameri being quoted as saying: “If you’d told me when I started that I’d be sitting here talking to you and watching the Capitals practice, and getting on the ice with them, I would’ve called you a liar.”
“I wasn’t nervous at all when we were first coming here, because I didn’t know what it would be like,” Al Ameri told the paper, while sitting in the stands at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston as the Capitals wrapped up practice Thursday. “But it’s different when you start living it. We get here, and there’s Alex Ovechkin (one of the Capital’s star players) on the ice. Like, right there. Life-sized not on TV, not on my phone screen. He’s right there. I can’t put it into words. It’s just amazing.”
A year ago, one of Al Ameri’s team-mates, Fatima Al Ali, had a chance encounter with five-time NHL all-star Peter Bondra, who noted her stick-handling skills. A trip to Washington to skate with the Capitals followed, bringing UAE women’s ice-hockey overseas attention for the first time. The Capitals, the NHL and Etihad Airways then came together to promote the relationship.
Since then, the Washington Post reported, “the scope and ambition of the UAE women’s national team have been transformed. Al Ali became an ambassador for her team, her country and her sport, traveling to Canada, Slovakia, Germany, Slovenia and Australia on hockey-focused youth missions, while her voice mail and social media accounts exploded with queries from women who suddenly wanted nothing more in the world than to be hockey players.
“We’ve had another 10 to 15 players join the national team programme,” Al Ali was quoted as saying. “I didn’t expect it would have that big an effect.”
Their hosts at the Capitals are clearly impressed with the UAE ladies. 22-year old Madison Bowey, another Capitals star, told the newspaper: “For me, the skating was the biggest thing I noticed. That’s the hardest thing to get down in this game. All these girls can skate, which is very special. You can see the work ethic and the passion. It put a smile on all our faces.”
Looking ahead, the paper predicted that this encounter in Washington may be a major step towards the long-term aim of the UAE ladies of having a UAE women’s ice-hockey team taking part in a Winter Olympic Games.
“At some point during their travels these next 10 days, the UAE women hope to pile into one of their hotel rooms and catch some of the women’s hockey tournament in the PyeongChang (South Korea) Olympics, ” the paper said. “The UAE team is a long way from qualifying at a world championship level, playing mostly in a second-division Asian Cup league with a major tournament next month in Malaysia. But if they come as far in the next 12 months as they did in the previous 12, and as far in the next five years as in the previous five, they might all live to see it happen.”
“I’m 26,” Al Ameri told the paper. “There’s only so much I can achieve at this point in my life. We’re pioneering this, but my hope out of this trip isn’t winning medals or anything but laying the groundwork for our next generation for them to be able to go and win the Olympics and carry the flag of our country everywhere.”