The Washington Capitals are the hottest team in the National Hockey League, led by Russian star Alex Ovechkin. But recently the spotlight fell on one of the team’s biggest fans, a hockey-playing, hijab-wearing young woman from Abu Dhabi with a wicked slapshot.
Thanks to the National Hockey League’s “Hockey Is For Everyone” month, Fatima Al Ali got to visit Washington and show off her puck-handling skills at practice with Ovechkin and the Capitals while a phalanx of photographers and camera crews captured every move.
The 27-year-old fell in love with ice hockey as a girl watching movies about a sport that calls itself the fastest game on earth. She took it up herself six years ago, plays with the United Arab Emirates’ women’s team, coaches youths, referees games and even has been the photographer for the men’s national hockey team.
Her repertoire includes bouncing pucks on the blade of her stick and making trick shots. Capitals players clacked their sticks on the ice in approval as Al Ali, wearing a bright red team jersey with her name on the back, took passes and rifled shots into the net.
Peter Bondra, a retired Capitals player, put on a hockey clinic in Abu Dhabi in 2016 and was astonished by Al Ali’s prowess.
The team and Etihad Airways flew Al Ali and her brother for a whirlwind Washington week that included a lunch in her honor at the UAE Embassy, tickets to a pro basketball game and practice with both the Capitals and a women’s pro team. She drew cheers from a sellout crowd when she dropped a ceremonial puck at a Caps game against the Detroit Red Wings.
“I was so nervous going on the ice, but once we started talking, it just calmed down,” she told reporters after the practice. Hockey is “something we all share and something we all love.”
“She was amazing,” Ovechkin told the Washington Post after giving Al Ali an autographed stick. T.J. Oshie, another Capitals star, said, “It’s cool that someone from so far away can still share the love of the game.”
More than a third of NHL players hail from 14 countries in Europe — including the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden, Finland and Slovakia — as well as the United States and Canada, where ice hockey was born.
“To see what she’s doing is fantastic,” said Barry Trotz, the Capitals coach. Today’s players “understand that there is a diversity in the world and our game is for everybody.”