At that time, one of our players put me in touch with a gentleman named Emad who is the manager at Al Shallal Ice Rink in Jeddah. I had been playing the text message negotiation game with Emad for almost six months trying to get us ice time again, and since Mohammed mentioned Emad's name, I thought at the least I should acknowledge Mohammed and keep things copacetic. Still feeling a little dubious by Mohammed’s request that we play in an “ice hockey show” - I decided to reply. A cordial and perfunctory thank you, but no thank you.
But, true to his name, Mohammed was resilient. He skirted my initial response and responded with more details about the underlying effort and the urgency of his request. His team had played in the Gulf Cup in 2010, but then lost their national sponsorship - shockingly ice hockey in Saudi Arabia failed to remain at the top of the bureaucratic priorities and the team had faltered. His team was now making a come back and this was a crucial part of that process - a hockey scrimmage as part of a larger Saudi National Day celebration at Al Shallal Ice Rink where his team was trying to establish a new home. It is impossible to explain the complexities and layers of trying to get things done in Saudi Arabia, and if I hadn’t already been here six years I would not have understood, but I got it. They needed to show the Al Shallal management, and the branch of the Saudi government that bank rolls these kinds of endeavours, that this was not a fledgling idea but a concept that could gain enduring traction.
I started messaging my team and very quickly it went from a text message that I almost deleted to almost the entire team agreeing to drive to Jeddah on Saudi National Day (read potential for the worst driving and traffic on earth!) and into an unknown scrimmage against a team we had never met. I love this kind of stuff so I was tingling, but we were still unaware of what was to unfold and the stride that this would be for our team.
When we arrived at Al Shallal they were still prepping the ice. We were scheduled to play somewhere in between a “freestyle ice skating exhibition” and a traditional performance celebrating Saudi National Day. Everything ran about three hours late, which is also something that you become accustomed to after living here for half a decade. The celebration started with the freestyle ice skating display: young men and women ripping around the ice, doing handstands and backflips on their skates, and jumping over each other and coming insanely close to ripping someone’s face open with a skate. It was kind of like the Vans Warped Tour meets Disney on Ice, with a big smack of socio-political whip cream on top in the form of partially covered women taking the ice in Saudi Arabia in front of a crowd of fully covered spectators. Given some of the recent social progression in Saudi, and some of the larger geo-political events in the last few months on this earth of ours, this was quickly developing into the “something to tell your grandkids” genre.
The freestyle show was followed by a traditional Saudi performance on a stage that had been erected on one end of the ice. At this point, we started gearing up for the hockey show that was to follow, and indeed it was a hockey show for the audience. We started by skating out with a group of young kids who were very eager to play hockey, but barely knew how to hold a stick (we were coaching them backstage). We warmed up without our helmets on so the crowd could see us (and most of the Saudi team continued to play the entire game sans helmet), we watched from the side while the kids took penalty shots on the goalies, we stood in parallel lines for the playing of the National Anthem. And then we played three periods of ice hockey in front of hundreds of people, in an incredibly dimly light and green tinted ice rink that somewhat resembled the surface of Venus (I don’t normally show my editing process but there are some before and after pics below to show the out of camera vs. color corrected shots). There were announcers and a staged hockey fight and even a trophy for the “winning team”. I was interviewed for a broadcast station (I have yet to find it), and we lined up for the ceremonial handshake at center ice after the last buzzer. It was our first skate in our new home. It was hockey night in the Kingdom.
OUT OF CAMERA VS. EDITED IMAGES