ARLINGTON, Va. -- What began with a chance meeting between Washington Capitals alumnus Peter Bondra and United Arab Emirates women's national team forward Fatima Al Ali at a youth hockey clinic in her hometown of Abu Dhabi in November 2016 reached a new level Monday when the UAE women's team helped run an on-ice workshop with female players from the American Special Hockey Association at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.
The UAE team is visiting the United States for 10 days and will be acknowledged at the Capitals' Hockey Is For Everyone night game against the Vancouver Canucks at Capital One Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, SNP, NBCSWA, NHL.TV).
The team will conduct similar workshops with ASHA players in New York on Friday and in Boston on Feb. 12. The UAE women's team will also attend the New York Rangers' home game against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and the Bruins' home game against the Colorado Avalanche at TD Garden on Sunday.
"I don't believe all of this is happening because of that meeting," Al Ali said. "It makes me so happy that it developed much more than what I expected and [more] than how it started. It's been amazing. We came back to give back to the community."
After Al Ali's meeting with Bondra, the Capitals brought her to Washington to take part in the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone initiative about inclusion and diversity in February 2017. She returned last year with the UAE team, which also visited Chicago and Ottawa.
This year, the UAE players wanted to do something to show their gratitude and help grow the game they love. Capitals director of communications Peter Robinson connected them with ASHA, which turned out to be a perfect link because UAE will host the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi on March 14-21.
With funds from the Embassy of the UAE and Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the UAE to the United States, the team will donate 120 sets of equipment during their trip.
"When we heard about ASHA, we wanted to find a way we could make a difference based on their needs," said Dana Al Marashui, head of the Heritage and Social Affairs Department at the Embassy of the UAE. "They had asked if we could help with the equipment and the ambassador wanted to make a difference. Because we're going to be doing a bunch of clinics with them, we wanted to find some kind of way of leaving a lasting impression."
The workshop Monday was unique because it was ASHA's first with only female players, who ranged in age from 9 to mid-20s. ASHA players will do an on-ice skills demonstration during the second intermission at the Capitals game against the Canucks on Tuesday.
The ASHA coaches, who also were all women, got a hand from Haley Skarupa from the United States women's national team, a native of Rockville, Maryland who brought her gold medal from the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
"I think it's empowering," ASHA executive director Jennifer O'Brien said. "A lot of times the girls kind of hang back a little bit and this is their chance to really dig in and see that other girls can play and they can play hard and they all have skills to share."