Juhani Matikainen serves Abu Dhabi hockey players with a dose of discipline and honesty as well as lots of high fives.
Ice is hard to find in Abu Dhabi, but talent for playing ice hockey can be sourced from the capital. Emirati ice hockey players rehearse in Zayed Sports City ice rink.
The hockey club Abu Dhabi Storms has five coaches from Finland, one of them Juhani Matikainen.
"The club was founded in 2008, and it has had Finnish coaches every year", Matikainen says.
Matti Fagerström is the head coach. In addition to Fagerström and Matikainen, coaches Tommi Satosaari, Jussi Korvakangas and Aleksi Hirvonen also work for the club.
Juhani Matikainen acts as head coach of the women's team, as well as the team of youngsters under the age of 15. He also leads the UAE women's national hockey team, and travels with them to tournaments at home and abroad, for example Hong Kong and Thailand.
A young Finnish guy teaching Emirati women how to score goals? Sounds exceptional. That it has been indeed, the coach admits, and very challenging. Cultural collisions can’t always be avoided.
"If a training session starts at five, there’s always someone arriving at half past five. Maintaining discipline is one of my main tasks", says Matikainen.
Female players seem to like, however, being expected to train hard. It’s just that the communication can be a chore, unlike with male players, says Matikainen.
"Women players definitely don’t always do as I say. Very often they complain. And they question everything", he huffs, amused.
Although commands are not always welcomed among the players, Matikainen has become good friends with his trainees.
"In the beginning I couldn’t even have a small chat with the women. Six months later we were giving high fives", Matikainen says with a smile.
Women's national team has not achieved many victories yet, but it got an another kind of prize last winter, when an NHL star Peter Bondra visited Abu Dhabi’s hockey tournament, the President Cup.
Bondra saw a Storms women's team player, Fatima Al Ali, skating and doing tricks on the ice. He uploaded a video about it on Twitter.
The video received a lot of attention, and Bondra decided to invite Al Ali to the US as a guest of honor of the hockey team Washington Capitals.
In Washington, Fatima Al Ali got to drop the first puck in one of the club’s games. Videos of the whole story spread again in social media.
"We gained a lot of awareness. Teams from many countries contacted us and expressed a wish to organize a friendship game”, Matikainen says.
Players like Fatima Al Ali get praise from Matikainen.
"Fatima is really motivated. I sometimes need to tell her to get out of the rink. Like, go home already, and get some sleep!"
The father of Juhani Matikainen is a former professional hockey player Petri Matikainen, who now coaches one of the Finnish Elite League hockey teams.
Son gets a lot of support and tips from his experienced dad. For example, when Abu Dhabi players get all worked up with unrealistic expectations of winning, father Petri encourages Juhani to serve them with a dose of realism.
That is: victories don’t come by accident, but with motivation, commitment and hard work.
"Honesty is the best policy.”