United Arab Emirates’ national team player and talented stickhandler Fatima Al Ali returned home to Abu Dhabi a week ago after a whirlwind trip to Washington DC.
In an interview, I conducted with Fatima Thursday, the inspiring female hockey player was still clearly in the afterglow of meeting her favorite NHL player, Alex Ovechkin, and skating with her favorite NHL team, the Washington Capitals.
“Literally every day I was freaking out,” Fatima said.
Back in November, Capitals great Peter Bondra visited the Pavlikovsky Hockey School program at the Zayed Sports Ice Rink in Abu Dhabi. The trip was meant to further encourage players in non-traditional hockey markets about the game. But then Bonzai witnessed Fatima’s mind-blowing stick wizardry.
After filming a hijab-wearing Fatima picking up a puck and swinging it around like it was glued to her stick, Bondra posted the video online and it immediately went viral, garnering thousands of retweets. Bondra told Fatima privately that it was a first for him on social media.
A week later, Bondra skyped Fatima and presented her a free dream trip to Washington in honor of Hockey Is For Everyone month. Fatima cried tears of joy.
The 27-year-old Fatima first began playing hockey six years ago after falling in love with the sport after seeing the Mighty Duck movies (and MVP). Furthering her passion for the game was her role as the official photographer of the men’s national team.
Later she would choose a favorite NHL player.
“It was either Crosby or Ovi. It was a tough choice,” Fatima said. “I loved to score goals, so I was looking for someone who knows how to score goals. Both of them are great players. When I saw Ovi just scoring amazing goals and going through players and everything, I said he’s my man, I’ll be keeping up with this guy.”
Fatima initially learned to skate with children nearly half her age, who teased her when she would fall during drills. But that just made a determined Fatima work harder. Since then she has become one of the best players on the women’s team in the United Arab Emirates.
According to The Indian Express, the UAE has only 82 adult women’s players among its 802 skaters and just nine rinks in the country of almost 6 million where the average winter temperature is about 79 degrees.
During Fatima’s trip to Washington, she visited the National Mall with her brother Mohammed and took in the Wizards’ overtime loss to LeBron James and the NBA-champion Cleveland Cavaliers. During warmups she even sank a jump shot on camera. Fatima also visited the UAE embassy and met ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba.
The next night, Fatima went to her first ever Caps game and cried tears of joy again after meeting the team in the locker room.
That #moment when your #dream comes true ❤ #Repost @monsportsnet.. That feeling when you fly across the world from the UAE and get to meet your favorite hockey player! #Caps #WashingtonCapitals #CapsHIFE #WashingtonDC #Washingtos #DC #usa #fatima_al_ali #ovi
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“I was just shocked when I got to the rink. I told them I don’t want any interviews, I don’t want any cameras, I don’t want to do any interviews,” Fatima revealed. “Then suddenly I get to the rink expecting two cameras and there’s a dozen, more than a dozen cameras in your face. I said ‘Oh my god, this is not happening.’”
It was arguably the most hockey media that had visited Kettler Capitals Iceplex all season long.
Days before Fatima was set to fly into Washington, President Donald Trump signed an executive order which banned members from seven Muslim-majority countries traveling into the country. The UAE was not one of the countries affected, but it still made things uncomfortable for the pair.
“My brother was kind of freaking out about going there [because of the travel ban],” Fatima said. “I told him it’s just media, nothing is happening, I talked to the embassy and everything is fine. Everyone is okay, nothing is happening. We’re lucky here we have the clearance in Abu Dhabi.”
During Fatima’s final night in DC, she was the team’s guest of honor, watching warmups from the bench. Fatima took selfies with nearly half the team.
Before walking out for the ceremonial faceoff, Fatima came up with a devious plan.
“I was thinking what can I do, I need to do something special,” Fatima said.
After dropping the puck, Fatima asked Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg and Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin if they would take a selfie with her at center ice. The two players obliged, creating another memorable and viral hockey moment.
“I told the team if they get to the playoffs or the Stanley Cup, I’ll do my best to come there and at least watch one game,” Fatima said.
Before I let Fatima go, I asked her if she would take a selfie with me from halfway across the world.
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It’s the greatest selfie I’ve ever taken.
Fatima was nice enough to also share the other selfies she took with players during the week. These are so great.
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