Emirati woman joins favourite NHL ice hockey team
Hockey legend Peter Bondra discovered Fatima (C) on a trip to the UAE when he was told she played on a woman's team, taught skating, was a referee in men's games and basically spent most of her waking hours on skates. (Source: Washington Capitals) Photograph: (Twitter)
Washington Capitals fan Fatima Al Ali met her favourite team on Wednesday, lacing up her skates and joining in for a daily practice session. The 26-year-old described the experience as an "unbelievable dream come true".
Washington hockey legend Peter Bondra discovered Al Ali on a trip to the United Arab Emirates last year. Bondra was told about a young woman who played on a woman's team, taught skating, was a referee in men's games and basically spent most of her waking hours on skates.
She shocked Bondra with a puck handling demonstration which he promptly shot on video and uploaded to Twitter.
Bondra, a team official now, learned that she was also a fan of his team, the Washington Capitals. He was so impressed that he decided to surprise her weeks later with an invitation to Washington to meet the team. Al Ali broke down in tears upon learning of the trip from Bondra over a Skype connection. The Nation Hockey League has designated February "Hockey is for everyone month" and the Capitals management felt Al Ali would make a perfect ambassador for the game.
The Capitals skated with their guest from the UAE and she was able to spend time with team captain Alex Ovechkin who took her under his wing. Ovechkin is Al Ali's favourite player and is regarded as one of the greatest active players, notching his 1,000 career point in mid-January.
"Yeah it's great. Obviously, she is a great person. She was dreaming to come here and meet me. Meet the Capitals, watch the hockey games and It's fun," Ovechkin told Reuters.
Asked why she liked ice hockey Al Ali said, "It's a different game. More action. More interaction. You can see everything coming, fights, body contact, shots scores, fast game. It's just thrilling."
Al Ali's visit comes at a time when the American capital is the centre of a debate about President Trump's recent executive order calling a halt in travel to the US from seven predominately Muslim countries. The ban has been temporarily halted by a federal court and the administration is attempting to reinstate it on appeal.