Q&A With Egyptian Ice Hockey Assistant Captain Sameh Ramadan
09 Jan 2017Steven Ellis»
Egyptian ice hockey may be new on the surface, but the nation isn't new to the sport. Steven Ellis talked to Sameh Ramadan, a member on the Egypt Ice Hockey Board and an assistant captain for the Egyptian Pharaohs and Cairo Anubis hockey teams.
After years of speculation and planning, the Moroccan Ice Hockey Federation announced the first ever African Ice Hockey Cup, the six-team tournament that took place in July of 2016. While on the surface it may not seem like a major tournament, the impact it had on countries in Africa was major as it allowed teams that don't participate consistently a chance to prove themselves on the international stage through a club tournament.
In the end, Tunisian club Carthage Eagles gave their country their first ever tournament championship following a thrilling 8-7 victory over the Rabat Capitals from Morocco. But one of the major stories came from the team who came last without a single win to their name.
Because the IIHF didn't have anything to do with the tournament, the teams were forced to use club team names as opposed to their national identity. Anubis gave Egypt their first ever ice hockey start, and while the team never won during the tournament, it was a big start for the future of hockey in the nation that just doesn't seem to make sense to have the sport in the first place.
And yet, they do, and they're ready to thrive and prove everyone wrong in the process. I talked to Sameh Ramadan, a member on the Egypt Ice Hockey Board and an assistant captain for the Egyptian Pharaohs and Cairo Anubis hockey teams, about the African Cup, the past and present of hockey in Egypt and the future moving forward.
EH) Introduce yourself.
SR) My name is Sameh Ramadan. an assistant captain for the Egyptian Club Pharaohs and Cairo Anubis (Club) Teams. I am a dual national (American/Egyptian) currently living in New Jersey, USA.
EH) To many people, the thought of a hockey team in Egypt is crazy. How did it come around?
SR) Egypt has a long history with the variants of hockey. Archaeologists discovered carvings at the tombs of Beni Hassan in Minya Governorate in central Egypt which show a variation of the sport was played in Ancient Egypt. Ice Hockey started in Egypt in the early 2000s when some foreigners and local Egyptian youth started to play on the ice for the first time in Cairo. In 2002, a few Canadian expatriates who work in the Maadi District in south Cairo donated some used ice hockey equipment (jerseys, Canadian-Egyptian sticks, skates) to Egyptian youth who would later emerge to form the Cairo Anubis Club team.
EH) Where do the players train? Are they home grown or do they play elsewhere?
SR) Currently, the team is actively practicing in locations in Cairo Egypt, and in New Jersey, USA. We intend to add a Montreal, Canada base as we expand the program for Canadian-Egyptian players.
Egypt-based ice hockey players practice in 3 main rinks in Cairo: the Ice Planet in Maadi, Genena Mall (Anubis Club Teams Home rink) and the Sun City Mall (Sun City Teams home rink).
All three rinks are about 30-40% the size of an NHL rink. None of the rinks have glass. Because of this, we cannot use regulation goals in the Cairo rinks. Our goalies cannot train in Cairo currently for this reason. This is a problem we are actively looking to resolve.
EH) Is there a league, or a plan for a league?
SR) We currently have the annual Egyptian Ramadan Cup as the main ice hockey tournament for Egyptian club teams. This championship is organized by the Administration of Anubis hockey club and we have had 3 editions of it in 2012, 2015 and 2016. Once we launch the Egyptian Ice Hockey Federation (EIHF) we will initiate the awaited Egyptian Ice Hockey League.
EH) Is there a TV option for people to watch hockey in Egypt?
SR) Currently, most of our players can watch NHL, KHL and Olympic Ice hockey games via Satellite Dish or streaming online. We believe that by launching the EIHF in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Sports and the Egyptian Olympic Committee, our ice hockey games will find regular broadcasting times and coverage on local TV.
EH) How did the team get involved with the African Cup?
SR) Since early 2000s when we initiated ice hockey in Egypt, we always had the plan for establishing regional governing bodies and competitions for Africa and the Mediterranean Region. When we talked about our plan for an African Ice Hockey Cup to our Moroccan friends in the Royal Moroccan Ice Hockey Federation (member of the International Ice Hockey Federation –IIHF) we found that they were also interested in the same dream and has already started the steps to make it happen.
EH) Despite it being a club tournament due to IIHF regulations, What was it like to see the team participate in an international tournament for the first time?
SR) It was an outstanding feeling for all of us to see our dreams come true after years of planning and hard work. Nothing is better than representing your team clubs country on an International level. Hearing the Egyptian National Anthem played before an ice hockey match, for the first time ever was a great experience. With this major step, we’ve put the Egypt Ice Hockey program on track to elevate the sport in our Country.
EH) How would you rate the tournament performance? Was it what you expected?
SR) The competition in the tournament was great. Some of the more experienced players playing in the USA (Sameh Ramadan -Forward, Yasser Ahmed -Goalie) knew it was going to be at a high level. As this was the first time for Egypt played on a larger surface rink with glass, many players had an adjustment curve. Picture half of you players have never shot on a regulation net, or even taken a slap shot. (In Cairo without glass slap shots or high wrist shots are not allowed as the rinks are in the middle of malls!) Even better was the fact that no Zambonis exist in any rinks in Egypt. They simply hose down the rinks with water and shovel similar to pond hockey. The first time I stepped on the ice in Rabat, Morroco I noticed how choppy the ice was. (it was during a public skating session) The other Egyptian players stepped on the ice and it was the best ice they have ever skated on even in this condition.
Because of its size was at least double anything in Egypt, our faster skaters could open up to reach their top speed for the first time. Ironically this was also the first time many of our skaters could get their skate sharpened. There are no skate sharpeners at the rinks in Egypt. Blades are dull. The players were able to finally turn quickly as their skates were able to hold a sharp edge. With these obstacles and the fact that due to funding we left some skilled players in Cairo, we were pleased with our performance. We scored 6 goals and our goalie made some amazing saves. As the representatives of Egypt we wished to have a better ranking but it’s logical since the Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian counterparts have had years more experience and several International matches.
EH) Who were some of the star players and where do they play outside of the team?
SR) Ahmed Ramadan (Forward, Assistant Captain) lives in Egypt and runs the program in Egypt with Ayman Abd-allah. Ahmed had three goals and has only ever played in Cairo, Egypt. I have played for 20 years in the USA and Egypt for local teams and I scored three goals in the tournament. Our goalie, Yasser Ahmed (Tournament Captain, goalie), played high school hockey in the top division in New Jersey and local leagues after that. He made 129 saves in four games and was our Tournament MVP.
EH) It was the first time the tournament was held. Would you call it a success?
SR) I want to point out without the Royal Moroccan Ice Hockey Federation and its President Khalid Mrini, this tournament would have never happened and would have never gathered such talent in Africa. The Moroccan Federation is the oldest IIHF member in North Africa and they have the biggest ice rink in our North African region, it was a right choice us as North Africans to start the cup there. Overall, everyone had a great experience and played against the top talent from these four countries. I would absolutely call it a success.
EH) Who were the important people that got the tournament going in the first place?
SR) Karim Kerbouche (Algerian Ice Hockey), Saad Tawfiq, Khalid Mrini and Adil EL Farj (Hosts, Moroccan Ice Hockey Federation), Ihab Ayed (Tunsian Federation) Eslam Soliman and Captain Ayman Abdallah (Egyptian Ice Hockey). These representatives from four countries worked tirelessly for years to put on the first edition of the African Ice Hockey Clubs Cup.
EH) Have you heard of any plans for a future African cup?
SR) We are already planning for our 2nd African Clubs Cup in July 2017. We are inviting more African countries to it. We hope it will become a bigger success. Morocco will be the hosts again.
EH) Now that the team has participated, what's the plan to grow hockey in the area?
SR) We plan to establish an African governing body which we believe will push the game forward in our region and will grow it at a better pace. We hope once the Egyptian Ice Hockey Federation is established we can apply to become an affiliate member of the IIHF. On the same track, we plan to include ice hockey as a new sport in the Pan- African Games through the Egyptian Olympic Committee. Prior to the African Clubs Cup we had little social media presence. Since then we have launched a marketing campaign under Egypt Ice Hockey.
We hope, with the exposure from TV and newspaper articles and Egyptian media, we can attract new sponsors.
EH) What's the rink situation like?
SR) Egypt currently has 11 ice rinks in 6 cities, and they will be 12 rinks soon in 2017 by the completion of Egypt Mall’s Ice Rink in the city of 6th October in the west of Giza Governorate. Seven of those 11 rinks are ice while 4 are blanketed with wax. However, unfortunately all these rinks are extremely small with the largest of them spanning over only 30m in Sun City Mall in Sheraton District of east Cairo. That’s why we are currently planning with the Egyptian Ministry of Youth & Sports in addition to some Egyptian businessmen to build Egypt’s and North Africa’s first Ice Hockey Arena or at least install ice hockey rink in one of the existing Egyptian Sports Multi-purpose Arenas.
EH) For the team itself, what's the five-year goal?
SR) Currently, we have about 170 players consisting of 80 Males, 70 Juniors, and 20 Females.
We plan to increase this number of players and make a women’s Anubis team. We plan to get more ice hockey equipment to cover our increasing needs. We are also keen to create more Egyptian club teams and participate in more regional and international competitions.
In the next five years, we hope to establish the Egyptian Ice Hockey Federation (EIHF), get recognition from the Egyptian Olympic Committee and most importantly gain sponsorship. A short term goals is to gain Glass on the rinks in Egypt and get regulation nets and Goalie training in Cairo. An ultimate goal is to have an NHL/ Olympic sized arena, Zamboni and skate sharpening in Cairo. With proper facilities, the sport would explode in the area’s most populated country.
EH) National teams are expensive. Where does funding come from and are there any financial targets that are looking to be tackled soon?
SR) We face big financial obstacles as the game is currently solely based on our own self-funding. All our jerseys, equipment, ice time and travel are funded only by the players. We are working hard to get sponsors to accelerate the growth of the game in Egypt. For the tournaments only about 10 guys have full equipment. Since Egypt doesn’t have any Ice hockey stores or distributers we end up paying double the cost for these items. We rely heavily on donations of used equipment. We hope we can identify sponsors thought our social media and news articles. A short-term goal is to raise $18,000 USD by this summer for the 2nd African Clubs Cup. To be used mainly for equipment, training and travel.
EH) Anything else you would like to get across?
SR) Yes! Egypt Ice Hockey is represented in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. 5 Artifacts are currently on display in the “International Year in Review” Section.
Also, a funny story.
In 1997 my parents had just moved to a place in Maadi, directly across from Cairo’s first ice rink. Myself, my brother and my cousin brought sticks and skates with us from the USA to play. When we tried to get on the ice with the sticks and pucks we were stopped by security, they saw the sticks as weapons and dangerous so we were never allowed to play. I was 13 at the time. Of course you dream of playing in the NHL as a kid, but being an Egyptian an even cooler dream was to play for Egypt. Fast forward 19 years’ later and I was on the ice representing Egypt, on a team whose home rink is that same rink in Maadi Egypt.
To learn more about hockey in Egypt, check out their website, as well as their social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Follow me on Twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.