The Dhahran SAAD Falcons battle against the Abu Dhabi Storms. Two U15
teams from Dhahran recently traveled to Al Ain for the annual tournament there,
but this year, the squads each moved up to compete at higher levels.
Returning to Al Ain seems almost like clockwork for the Dhahran SAAD Falcon U15 hockey players.
Every year, the first weekend in May has meant that they would pack their gear, wrap their sticks and journey down to Al Ain for the annual GCC U15 hockey tournament. This year, it was different: the players, guided by a much focused head coach, Dan Gaines, opted to participate at a higher level than they traditionally have, placing their teams in the A and B divisions, and thereby raising their hockey competition to the next level of play.
Coming off a convincing sweep at the B division level in Dubai in January and winning gold, and solid play at the C division level, the focus of the U15 program has been to elevate their skills and hockey knowledge. For four straight tournaments, the coaching staff studied what it would take to be competitive at the higher levels by scouting games played between rivals Abu Dhabi Storms and Dubai Sandstorms, then went to work on a development program to ready the nearly 30 players for Al Ain.
Back to the Basics
“We decided to make a return to the basics — skating, passing and shooting — to really hone our skills on the simple, meaningful things that make teams successful. We saw that our kids were getting much faster and much stronger more quickly than expected,” said Gaines. “After the spring break, we reintroduced the schemes necessary to complete plays, such as breakouts, transitions and offensive attack. The results were certainly better than expected.”
The A team played four exceptionally competitive games, including two against rival Abu Dhabi, splitting the results with a 4-3 loss and a 5-0 victory. Against Dubai, the team fought hard, but could not overcome their faster and more tenacious defense, losing by scores of 2-0 and 3-0. “As well as we match up against Abu Dhabi, we have a difficult time against Dubai. It’s probably as much mental as physical, but we just didn’t look as smooth. And I have to give credit where it’s due, Dubai capitalized on our mistakes,” said Gaines.
The B squad opened the tournament playing hard against a much seasoned Qatar team, losing a very closely played game 3-0. For a significant portion of the game, the Falcons controlled the pace and significantly outplayed the larger and faster Qatar Raiders. Similar results would occur against Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as they dropped those games 2-0 and 5-2.
“The B kids worked their tails off,” said Gaines. “Size-wise, we surrendered an average of six inches and at least 15 kilograms to each of our opponents. What we did learn, however, was how to take advantage of our quickness and speed to disrupt the flow of the game. Now, we need to learn how to win. I heard wonderful compliments from the other coaches, who had much different expectations from us over the weekend. We put the scare into a couple of programs by upping the ante,” said Gaines.
A great year does not end without a number of hockey players coming of age and graduating from the program, and moving on to high school locally or abroad. This year’s graduating class includes: Zain Baig, Jacob Green, Kaden LaVerdiere, Megan Mc-Cartney, Juliana Morcos, Hadi Nassereldine, Mahmoud Shana’a, and Isaac Stevens.
“I can’t express my gratitude enough to the kids who week-in, week-out lace up the skates and put up with countless hours of practice in order to prepare for this weekend,” reflected Gaines. “We are a family, sometimes dysfunctional, but one of the best groups of parents and players I have experienced over the past 30 years of coaching. I am going to miss those kids. All the best to the graduates.”