Fatima Al Ali is a dangler, and a darn good one.
Ali is a slick stick-handling whiz who looks like she’s been playing hockey forever. But the star of the UAE’s women’s hockey team has only been playing since 2008 when she caught the hockey bug while working as the official photographer for the country’s men’s national team.
Bondra was so impressed with her stick handling skills that he told the Capitals. Now the team, in partnership with Etihad Airways, is giving Ali a chance to show off her skills and meet Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin and other NHL players in the United States.
They surprised her earlier this month with two round-trip business class tickets to D.C. and tickets to attend a Capitals game in February, which the NHL observes as “Hockey is for Everyone Month.”
“When we talked, I remember you told me your favorite player is Alex Ovechkin, and your favorite team is the Washington Capitals,” Bondra told Fatima during a video call earlier this month. “Looking forward to seeing you again in person, and watch the game, and hopefully (you will) meet Alex Ovechkin and the whole team. I hope you be able to show some skills to Washington Capitals players.”
With a population of more than 5.7 million, the United Arab Emirates has 802 hockey players – 386 men, 334 juniors, and only 82 women. Its men’s national team is ranked 46th in the world while its women’s program isn’t ranked. There are nine indoor rinks in the country.
Bondra journeyed to Adu Dhabi with on a mission to help grow the game, a priority for the Capitals brain trust.
“We recognize the growth of basketball and hockey worldwide, along with the Arena Football League and our new franchise, the Washington Valor,” said Jim Van Stone, president of business operations and chief commercial officer for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards. “We are committed to encouraging that development on an international scale through several initiatives, including upcoming clinics.”