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Hockey Is For Everyone

Fatima Al Ali drops ceremonial puck, takes selfie

United Arab Emirates player, on trip as part of Hockey Is For Everyone month, gets photo with Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Zetterberg

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Fatima Al Ali wasn't going to let this moment pass without making sure she'd never forget it.

In front of a cheering Verizon Center crowd, Al Ali, a player on the United Arab Emirates women's national team, dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff between her favorite NHL player, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, and Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg prior to their game on Thursday. Then, though there were television cameras and still photographers on the ice following her every move, Al Ali took out her smartphone and got Ovechkin and Zetterberg to pose for a selfie with her.

"I was like, 'Can I do it or not?'" Al Ali said. "It was just an idea. I'm happy it worked."

It's been that kind of week for Al Ali, who arrived in Washington on Sunday on a trip arranged by the Capitals as part of the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone month promoting inclusion and diversity in the sport. In fact, Al Ali, 27, is having so much fun, she's been trying to convince her brother, Mohammed, to extend their stay a while longer.

Video: DET@WSH: Fatima Al Ali drops ceremonial puck for HIFE

They were scheduled to return to Abu Dhabi on Friday.

"I was telling my brother I think we should stay for a longer time," Al Ali said. "He's like, 'I want to go back home' and I'm was like, 'Please, please, please.' So we're trying to extend for one or two more days. I hope it works."

No one can blame her for not wanting this dream to end.

It all began when Al Ali met Peter Bondra during a youth hockey clinic the Capitals alumnus was helping to run in Abu Dhabi in November. Bondra was impressed by Al Ali's puck-handling skills and posted a video on Twitter of her whipping the puck around lacrosse-style on her stick blade that went viral.

The Capitals, with help from their airline partner, Etihad Airways, arranged to have Al Ali travel with her brother to Washington to see an NHL game in person for the first time and meet Ovechkin. She got to do much more than that.

Al Ali also attended the Washington Wizards NBA game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Verizon Center on Monday, and toured the United Arab Emirates embassy before attending the Capitals' 5-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center on Tuesday.

After meeting Ovechkin and some the other Capitals in the locker room after the game Tuesday, which she said was the biggest surprise of the trip because that wasn't on the schedule, Al Ali joined them on the ice at the end of their practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday, and showed off some of her skills.

"I did not expect any of that and it's been unbelievable," said Al Ali, a sports photographer who did work for the UAE men's team. "It's amazing. I'm having so much fun, enjoying every moment."

Al Ali said the best thing ever was watching warmups with her brother from the Capitals bench on Thursday.

"I'm used to being all the time on the bench back home with the men's practice throwing pucks to them and fooling around, so this was much better than that," she said.

Al Ali said she got goosebumps when she was introduced for the ceremonial faceoff and the crowd cheered.

"I was so excited, nervous, mixed feelings," she said. "I didn't know what to do. I'm like, 'I hope I just don't do something stupid. I hope it works well.'"

That didn't deter her from asking Ovechkin and Zetterberg for the selfie, which she plans to post on Snapchat and Instagram.

Al Ali hopes by living her dream she will inspire other Muslim women around the world to do the same.

"I hope set a good example for them and if they have a dream just follow it," she said. "There's nothing that can stop them. You have something in your head, you have something you want to do, just go for it. Who can stop you?"

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