Finns seek converts to hockey in the Gulf
Antti Lehto went to Dubai for work, but he soon found a new home in the United Arab Emirates: Dubai Oilers, his current semi-pro hockey team. The defenseman’s first club was Rauman Lukko, but this week he got to celebrate a championship win in the Emirates Hockey League.
The league has six teams, with two of them composed of local players and four comprised mainly of expats. The two local clubs provide the bulk of the players for the national team, which is coached by Finn Juhani Ijas.
Although the sport has solid enough foundations in the emirates, with six teams contesting the title, it remains some way behind other local pastimes such as cricket, rugby and camel racing.
"It’s a kind of semi-pro scene," said Lehto. The title decider in Al Ain’s ice hall drew around 30 spectators."
Lehto’s Oilers beat the Al-Ain Theebs club to secure the title this week, giving him the chance to lift the trophy. For someone who played with world champion Janne Niskala in his youth it was still a moving experience.
"It weighed at least 30 kilos," said Lehto, who also took the prize into the sauna as Finnish sporting tradition dictates.