Ice Hockey in the Qatar, or "The Qatar Qanucks"?

With temperatures ranging from 13C to 42C (55F to 108F) Qatar does not seem to be the most likely place to find a game of shinny. But a group of expats has decided otherwise. Despite humble beginnings in 2003, with hard orange plastic balls on the then-boardless City Center Mall rink in downtown Doha, the Qatar International Ice Hockey League (QIIHL) has evolved to a respectable level.

The league is composed of two conferences, each with three teams, which, in turn, are split in half according to skill level. Although Canadians make up the vast majority of the 70 to 80 men who play ice hockey in Doha, there are players from many nationalities; even a few Qataris have taken up the sport! The games, which are non-contact and refereed, take place two to three times per week between September and May.

The games are primarily held at the Olympic-sized rink within the flashy Villagio Mall, which is an attraction itself. Set in near the northern edge of the mall, the rink is surrounded by a food court serving American fast food, and a theme park complete with a Ferris wheel, and is flanked by a Venetian canal, complete with gondolas.
With the added sound of skates slicing through ice, the scene can confuse the senses.

Despite its carnival-like surroundings, there is some serious puck action at the Villagio Mall rink. Every year, the mall plays host to the Desert Cup, which attracts teams from throughout the Middle East, including clubs from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. The tournament is competitive and intense. The only rule is: no slap shots.

Children also have an opportunity to play ice hockey in Doha. The Qatar Minor Ice Hockey Association (QMIHA) is an organization run completely by volunteers for children aged five to 17 years of age. The league ensures that children living in Qatar do not miss the chance to try the fastest game on Earth. Like the men's league, the QMIHA enters tournaments held in neighboring Middle Eastern nations.

Goalies have the opportunity to hone their skills at Louis Guay's goaltending clinic, which runs annually for two days in December. Guay, an alumnus of the Saint Francis Xavier University hockey team in Nova Scotia, Canada, has been coaching goalies for nearly 32 years. Already known for his camps at Notre Dame College in Saskatchewan, at the request of an expat friend, Guay decided to export his school to the Middle East; first to Dubai in 2008, and most recently to Doha. Guay says most of the children who come to his camp have played before, but he is also happy to introduce new faces to the sport.

According to Canadian Colin Boudreau, the principal of the high school at the American School of Doha, and a dedicated patron of hockey, acquiring hockey equipment in Qatar can be a difficult task. He recommends bringing all the equipment you can from home. However, he says that it is possible to get your skates sharpened in Qatar, but at the dear price of US$8.25!

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