When Washington Capitals alumnus Peter Bondra traveled to the United Arab Emirates in November to share his knowledge of the game as a coach at the Pavlikovsky Hockey School in Abu Dhabi, he encountered Fatima Al Ali, who plays for UAE's women's national team.
Al Ali, who was introduced to hockey in 2008 while working as a website administrator and photographer for the UAE's men's national team, made an impression on Bondra with her puck-handling skills, which she demonstrated in a couple of video clips he posted on Twitter that went viral.
After learning from Al Ali that the Capitals are her favorite team and captain Alex Ovechkin is her favorite player, Bondra worked with the Capitals to surprise her during a Skype video chat earlier this month. Al Ali wiped away tears after she learned that the Capitals and their airline partner, Etihad Airways, were giving her two business class airline tickets to Washington and two tickets to see a game at Verizon Center.
"I was very impressed when I visited UAE and Abu Dhabi with your hockey skills," said Bondra, who scored 503 goals and had 892 points during his 16-season NHL career, during their conversation. "But I also learned that you have a great dedication to hockey and enthusiasm for hockey."
Al Ali, a 26-year-old who's been playing hockey for six years, will be in Washington in February during the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone month, a League initiative that promotes giving children of all backgrounds opportunities to play hockey.
"I think you would be a great ambassador for this on your visit," Bondra told Al Ali. "I hope you will be able to show some skills to the Washington Capitals players."
Although Al Ali initially said "I don't like surprises," she appeared overjoyed when learning she would have an opportunity to meet Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals.
"Thank you very much," she told Bondra.