In a monumental year that saw Taylor Woods reach new glories, becoming part of a very rare and celebrated group of wondrous women to have won both, the Clarkson Cup and Isobel Cup in a career, her tremendous talents also brought her to a fascinating part of the world. Gracing the ice for a tournament in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), their sporting footprint has seen the adoption of many Western sports.
From the growing popularity of soccer and basketball, along with many luxurious golf courses, ice hockey also holds an important place. Holding membership status in the IIHF, the UAE also has a national women’s team that has participated in the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia.
Another significant event for the game’s growth includes the Union Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament, which saw Woods among the empowering competitors participating in 2023. Held in Al Ain, the fourth largest city in the UAE, belonging to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the event featured eight teams, including a trio from the UAE, plus Iran, Mexico, Oman, the Philippines and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Playing for the chance to win the Union Cup, the impact of the tournament sees tremendous reward in adding relevance to women’s ice hockey in the Middle East, which also sees female teams based in Bahrain and Kuwait. For the participants at the Union tournament, the chance to share the ice with Western stars, such as Woods, brings a significant major league feeling.
As the rink represented a highly pleasant and familiar oasis for Woods, the opportunity to explore a place never visited before proved just as compelling as the tournament itself. Receiving information about this tournament during midsummer, the appeal of experiencing the game in such a unique place, simultaneously adding another chapter to her hockey odyssey, the decision proved well worth it.
“I received a message from a friend about the opportunity in August and I had to decide about it quickly. I have never been to Dubai and it was a chance to see and experience what hockey is like in different parts of the world.”
Wearing the grey jersey of Al Dhabi, adorned by her familiar number 2, Woods was more than an ambassador for the game. Becoming friend and mentor, her graciousness and heart of gold shone brilliantly. Providing encouragement for nascent players on-hand to pursue their own hockey dreams, her presence as a two-time pro hockey champ and Team Canada alum raised awareness of such an exceptional event.
Defeating the Iranian team known by the nomenclature Icebox for the gold medal, allowing Al Dhabi the opportunity to hoist the Union Cup, it allowed Woods a special milestone. Enjoying the unique feat of two titles in one year, buliding on the momentum of her Isobel Cup triumph just a few months prior, the new friendships made proved equally fulfilling, highlighted by gifting one of her Toronto Six jerseys to a highly grateful skater.
“It meant a lot. You are a part of a team aimed at one specific goal. Even over the short period of time of a 5-game tournament, we were able to improve and work together, and the results were successful. There are bonds that grew on and off the ice that I will have for a long time. For me, I am just happy to be welcomed by the team and be able to interact with different athletes, coaches and personnel participating in the tournament.”
The bronze medal match saw the Philippine Eagles defeated Emirate team Yas, earning a place on the podium. Worth noting, the Eagles also featured Canadian content with Winnipeg sisters Hanna and Larissa Pagdato on the roster. The remaining teams in the field included the Riyadh Wings (Saudi Arabia), Panteras HC (Mexico), Muscat (Oman) and Shaheen (UAE). Woods’ club team Al Dhabi was in Group A with Muscat, Yas and the Wings. In addition, the closing ceremonies included an All-Star Game.
While in the UAE, Woods also took the time to visit Dubai, located approximately 105 km from Al Dhabi. One of the world’s most favorite destinations, the dining options resulted in a highly palatable rediscovery of a familiar comfort food, while the architectural marvels included the experience of the highly popular Sky Glass Slide Experience. Reflecting on the incredible time, the bigger picture revealed a profound appreciation for the players and enthusiasts, proud that a shared enjoyment of hockey created such a profound connection.
“The whole experience was amazing. The list can go on: seeing and experiencing Dubai in all its lavishness, eating all the good food and devouring the best and second best burgers I have ever had. Of course, having a blast playing and sharing the game of hockey. Yet, the best part was the people that made my trip memorable.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”