The other participating teams were Turkey, Turkmenistan, Luxembourg and Chinese Taipei.
Although Thursday’s victory makes the tournament win official, it was the 13-4 rout over second-place Turkey the day before that was the key result. UAE jumped into a 5-0 lead, conceded two goals, and then pulled away for what turned out to be a one-sided victory. Turkey still has one game left against Turkmenistan on Friday, but that result can’t unseat UAE from top spot.
UAE joined the IIHF in 2001 but didn’t play its first World Championship tournament until 2010. It wasn’t until 2014 that they earned their first win, but after three years of ever-worse performances they found themselves having to play the qualifying tournament just to get into Division III-A. After winning in 2019, they were back in the program and made history with their victory this week.
Of added significance to yesterday’s key win was the play of captain Juma Al Dhaheri. He has been the team captain for every game but one since 2010 and was named Best Player against the Turks after scoring twice and adding two assists. But he was hardly alone. Seven of the top nine scorers in the tournament are from UAE, including Ilia Chuikov, who leads all players with 10 goals and 19 points. Chuikov had four goals against Turkey and a hat trick versus Turkmenistan.
The team is coached by Dave Rich, a 52-year-old Canadian from Ottawa who had a lengthy career in Germany before coaching there for more than a decade. More recently, he coached in Italy before moving to the United Arab Emirates.
UAE began the tournament at the Patinoire de Kockelscheuer with a 10-4 win over Turkmenistan and followed with a 10-2 win over Chinese Taipei. The second-place finish for Turkey can still finish in second place. The team was looking to get back to the Division II for the first time since 2017.
Turkmenistan joined the IIHF family only seven years ago and had previously participated in the 2018 WM Division III qualifications, which it won, and then moved up to Division III for 2019.
Luxembourg has been a fixture at the World Championship program since 2000 and played as high as the Division II Group B in 2018. The team is captained by 41-year-old Benny Welter, who also captained Luxembourg at the World Championship back in 2002, 2003, and 2004. In between, the team had only one captain, Ronny Scheier, but he retired in 2019 after wearing the “C” for an astounding 15 consecutive years.
Chinese Taipei has only recently been able to play consistently in the World Championship, participating for the first time in 2017.
The UAE team is a blend of international players, who meet the requirements to represent their new country, alongside homegrown talent. Perhaps the most impressive of the latter group is Al Dhaheri, who at 46 is also the oldest player on the team. He has played for the league team Abu Dhabi Storms for more than a decade, most recently under coach Rich. Indeed, almost all Emirates players in Kockelscheuer play for the Storms, who are part of the Abu Dhabi Ice Sports Club, one of six teams in the EHL (Emirates Hockey League).
There are still two games left today in the Division III-A event, including a massive Luxembourg-Chinese Taipei showdown. Luxembourg sits in fourth place with two points and Chinese Taipei in last with zero. That means for Luxembourg anything between a bronze medal and moving down to last place is possible depending on the outcome of the game against Chinese Taipei.
All games can be watched live and for free on the tournament page.
The closest the United Arab Emirates came to adversity in the tournament occurred in their first game against Turkmenistan. They took an early lead but Turkmenistan tied the game, 1-1, and later in the period they scored to make it 3-2 UAE. But the Emirates responded with four straight goals and pulled away for the win, spurring them on to a historic first-place finish.