The first edition of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) club tournament contested in Kuwait City saw teams from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates take part.
Played between 18-22 December 2018, the Abu Dhabi Storms from the United Arab Emirates lifted the inaugural trophy as club champion of the Gulf region. Their victory was sealed thanks to a free-flowing final day 11-7 win against the Kuwait Stars.
Artur Zainutdinov from Russia led the way for the Abu Dhabi Storms in their deciding game by tallying four goals, while United Arab Emirates national team player Juma Al Dhaheri scored a brace and had two helpers.
Played in a round robin format, the Abu Dhabi Storms raced through the tournament undefeated with four straight wins. The Jeddah Ice Sports Club from Saudi Arabia finished third, the Bahrain Ice Hockey Club grabbed fourth spot while the Oman Rocks finished bottom without a win.
“The aim for the tournament has been to develop ice hockey in the Middle East but also for us in Kuwait to try and grow our ice hockey. There has been a lot of promotion for ice hockey during the tournament and the winner not only takes the cup home, but also will host the next edition of the tournament,” said Bojan Zidarevic, assistant coach of Kuwait Stars and the Kuwait men's national team.
The rules of the game were also put in sharp focus during the hockey festivities with half-a-dozen IIHF licensed referees and linesmen from Serbia touching down to officiate the games. Referees Djordje Fazekas, Ivan Nedeljkovic and David Perduv were together with linesmen Srdjan Dakic, Darko Popovic and Stefan Pozar and in addition held a seminar for regional referees and young players during their short stint in the Gulf.
While the national teams from the Gulf region have competed against other in a bi-annual regional tournament since 2012, the newly launched club competition hopes to add more games with a competitive edge to the calendar.
Kuwait being selected as the host of the inaugural GCC club tournament comes as no surprise. Under Fahad Hamad Al Ajmi's reign as the President of the Kuwait Ice Hockey Association, there have been significant strides made in short time. Kuwait men's national team debuted at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification. They will be followed this season by the national women's team and the men's U20 team making their respective debuts at IIHF-sanctioned international competitions.
The swift progress made in Kuwait is also hoped to inspire others within the region to get up to speed with their development. One such country being neighbours Saudi Arabia is one country where the Jeddah Ice Sports Club recorded two fine wins at the GCC club tournament.
“We previously only played against them a long time ago,” said Zidarevic. “But Saudi Arabia is seeing development for ice hockey. At the moment they have a small ice rink to play and practise in but for the future, they have plans to build more rinks,” he continued.
The Abu Dhabi Storms’ success this week in Kuwait, once again consolidated the position of United Arab Emirates leading the way for hockey in the region. Their men's national team made their debut at World Championship level in 2010 and they have won all four GCC national team championships played so far. Plenty will be at stake as they host the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification on home ice in Abu Dhabi. Eager to put on a good show while trying to blood youngsters into their national team, the GCC club tournament has been a much welcome addition in their development.
“This tournament idea is to promote ice hockey in the region and increase the level of play. The players taking part in the tournament here in Kuwait are mostly from the young generations where Mohamad Al Kaabi is the youngest aged 17. We also had players with ages from 22 to 30 and two players with ages in the 40s," said Mohamad Aref, Sports Director at the UAE Ice Sports Federation, who in two years’ time will aim to defend their newly won trophy as the tournament hosts.