Sunday, March 23, 2014

UAE ‘deserved’ second-place finish in IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia

ABU DHABI // The UAE had no chance of claiming the title at the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia on Saturday night, but they did lay claim to an unchallenged second-place finish and end the tournament on a high note.

Besides champions Chinese Taipei, the UAE ended the competition with a win over every team, finishing Saturday night with a 3-1 victory over Mongolia.

Saeed Al Nuaimi scored the winner at 14:31 in the third period and he added an empty-net goal with 44.9 seconds left to put the finishing touches on a tournament in which the Emiratis won four of their five games.

Suhail Al Mehairi had turned an innocuous-looking face-off into the game’s crucial score for the UAE. The puck came out of a face-off and straight to him in front of the Mongolia crease. His first backhanded attempt was stopped by goaltender Munkhbold Bayarsaikhan, but he batted the rebound into the goal, again backhanded, to break the deadlock.

The UAE had taken a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Mubarak Al Mazrequei centred a pass from behind the Mongolia goal that Abdulla Al Harmoodi volleyed past Bayarsaikhan into the bottom right corner of the net.

They had a second golden chance about seven minutes later, when Khalifa Al Mahrouqi collected a loose puck around centre-ice and dashed for a breakaway.

Mongolia forward Tserenbaljir Baatarkhuu was on his tail and committed his second penalty of the period when he reached around Al Mahrouqi as he approached the net and pulled him down. Al Mahrouqi was awarded a penalty shot in which he drove in, faked to get Bayarsaikhan off his feet, but then hit his shot too low to allow the goaltender to stop it.

Mongolia responded early in the second period and scored a power-play goal after Faisal Al Suwaidi took a penalty for tripping.

Forty-seven seconds into the power play, UAE goalie Ahmed Al Dhaheri tried to poke the puck out from in front of the net, but slipped.

The puck settled a few feet outside the crease, where Mongolia captain Mishigsuren Namjil collected it and fired into the open net to even the scores.

The second period ended with the scores still level.

The tight match saw tensions flare as the second period came to a close, with Al Mazrequei and Mongolia defenceman Batgerel Zorigt getting into a scrap after play was whistled dead with just 0.3 seconds on the clock.

It was not quite an NHL-style brawl, but they made the most of it for a few seconds, with both taking a five-for-fighting penalty and ejection.

The UAE generated about a half-dozen more prime goalscoring opportunities, but were denied by a stout performance from Bayarsaikhan, who made 35 saves.

That was before he was beaten twice at the end as the UAE sealed second place.

Assistant captain Al Mehairi was disappointed with the second-place finish. “We hoped for first place, but we deserved second place. The players here played hard, everyone had similar skills,” he said.

“They [Chinese Taipei] were better than us this year, but next year we will see.”

The UAE’s next tournament is the IIHF World Championship Division 3, which starts on April 6 in Luxembourg.

They take on Bulgaria, Hong Kong, North Korea, Georgia and the hosts, with the winners of a round-robin tournament earning promotion to Division 2.

jraymond@thenational.ae

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