Bahrain Sharks head to Qatar to defend their Doha Desert Cup title
Time Out Bahrain staff
Ice hockey might not be a sport you readily connect with a desert nation such as ours but the Bahrain Sharks are a force to be reckoned with having won the open division in the Doha Desert Cup for the last two years running.
And this month they’ll be heading off to the Qatari capital to defend the title.
Player Clark Fisher explains: “Within the GCC there are around three major tournaments. November is Abu Dhabi, which is quite new, usually Doha is in March. Following that there’s Dubai which rounds out the year in April – that’s the biggest one with teams coming from Switzerland, Russia, Germany. They even had a team from Canada two years ago and typically the Canadians here will form a team “The Desert Cup is like a warm up. The team is comprised of players who mostly live in Bahrain both expats and Bahrainis. This year we’re looking at at least four Bahrainis as well as some Canadians and players from the US and even an Australian.”
At tournaments the Sharks would hope to have at least 11 players participating – which makes up two lines of five plus the goalie, who’s on the ice the whole time, however the sport is growing in popularity in the kingdom and it looks like they’ll be taking 13 players to Doha (let’s hope the number doesn’t prove unlucky) and a full 15 to Dubai – three complete lines.
Currently the Bahrain skaters play amongst themselves meeting twice a week to take to the ice at Fun Land on The Corniche and, in the absence of a local league, the tournaments are their best chance to come up against outside competition.
Countries such as Qatar and Dubai do have A and B teams who take part in different skills categories – the top tier play in the A division and everyone else is in the Open Division, which is where Bahrain Sharks are defending Desert Cup champions.
Clark continued: “We are getting more interest each year but there are a number of countries that have more than one team so we have done well to hold onto our title over the past couple of years. It’s growing slowly here but we don’t have a full-sized rink, that’s something we’re working towards – we have players coming over from Saudi so there’s a possible tie up there with sponsorship to extend the rink, which would be great for the sport.”
Bahrain has a long history in ice hockey with the first team being established back in the early 1990s when Fun Land was created – one of the co-founders was the father of ice hockey in Bahrain André Cote who is still involved in the sport.
“He helped to set up the rink and was responsible for training, as youth players, the group of Bahrainis that we’re playing with now and these guys are trying to interest other Bahrainis,” added Clark.
“They did quite well and were one of the strongest teams in the GCC at that time and won stuff regularly through to the late 90s then it seems hockey fell off for a few years.
“Tamer Fakhroo resurrected it, he’s one of the current players and he’s one of the main organizers and co-ordinators. We’re looking to put together a squad for the GCC Games in June – there was a Bahrain national team put together for the Asian Winter Games so hopefully we can build on that.”
There is currently a youth group playing on the weekends from 9-10am on Saturdays and a group of Saudi skaters recently came over to play with further visits being planned to the rink.
Adults is Sunday night and Tuesday night and anyone can have a go – the team may even have enough spare equipment to kit out a player or two, though people do generally get their own stuff.
Doha’s the first challenge and Clark is hopeful it will lead on to bigger things.
He said: “In Dubai we won our division in 2010 but last year was not so good so we’re looking for a return to form at this tournament.
“The current training group is made up of expats plus around seven Bahrainis and the local lads are really pulling their weight.
“For example our goalie is a young Bahraini of about 18 and we also have a couple of up and coming skaters who are doing really well. The expat contingent are also pretty talented so it’s good to feed off each other which means we’re all improving all the time.”
And what makes the sport so attractive, apart from the chance to cool off from the desert heat?
“Changes are made on the fly,” says Clark. “It’s an incredibly fast game – unlike sports where you have to stop to change players, skaters are coming and going on the ice all the time.
“The average time for a player to be on is 45 to 60 seconds, this is what makes it such a fast game which makes it incredibly exciting.”
And don’t forget to tussles and even punch ups, which make ice hockey so entertaining to watch as you yell for the players consigned to the sin bin for all manner of infractions – a fate hopefully to be avoided by the Bahrain Sharks.