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Firing a shot on goal for future success

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-11 08:44
Jakob Kolliker, Team China's Swiss head coach, watches his charges during Tuesday's 4-0 loss to the Netherlands at the IIHF Division I Group B world championship tournament at Shougang Ice Hockey Arena in suburban Beijing. ZHANG WEI/CHINA DAILY

China's national teams likely facing short-term pain to make long-term gains ahead of Beijing Olympics

Building a contender is kind of like poking the puck into the net after a crazy scramble in the crease-it requires equal parts talent and luck.

With a struggling campaign at the women's third-tier world championships underlining the urgency of its Olympic task, China remains committed to a respectable showing in the hockey tournaments at the 2022 Beijing Games.

If it helps trigger a long-term boost to the sport's popularity here, so much the better.

Outsized and overpowered, China's women's national team dropped a 4-0 decision to the Netherlands at the ongoing IIHF Division I Group B tournament at Shougang Ice Hockey Arena in suburban Beijing on Tuesday.

The result underlined the challenge facing Team China at the 2022 Olympics after having both the women's and men's teams automatically qualify due to their host status.

The physical disparity was obvious in Tuesday's loss as the Dutch squad's advantage in size and strength dictated the play throughout.

"We analyzed their game and knew how they would play, but they are physically stronger than we are and that was the key for them," said Jakob Kolliker, Team China's Swiss head coach.

"Even without the physical advantage, we were not cool enough with the puck, and it showed."

With the loss, China (world No 20) has fallen three points behind the Netherlands (world No 21), which leads the six-team tournament. The winner earns promotion to Division 1 Group A next year.

Traditionally, the world's top 12 men's and top 10 women's teams qualify for the Olympics, but the IIHF voted last May to give China direct berths in 2022 with an eye toward promoting the sport in such a huge untapped market.

"The Olympics are three years away and we can't press the button to stop time," said Kolliker, an IIHF Hall of Famer and former star defenseman for the Swiss national team. "We have to set up the program for long-term success, not just focus on 2022."

Kolliker's appointment to the women's team after helming China's under-20 men's squad to gold at the IIHF U20 division III worlds in January, was the latest effort by the Chinese Ice Hockey Association to bolster the national program.

China's women's program sent eight core players to the professional Canadian Women's Hockey League over the past two seasons, along with players of Chinese heritage drafted overseas.

As well, domestic teams in Harbin and Beijing have taken part in extended training camps in Canada, Finland and the Czech Republic.

"I think the target has been set a little bit too high and if we can't realize it, which so far seems to be the case, we could be embarrassed at the Olympics," said veteran forward Zhang Mengying, one of three Team China players who represented the country at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

"Realistically, I think we might be competitive enough to fight for a top-six finish," said the 25-year-old Beijing native.

Still, the IIHF has expressed confidence in the efforts made by the CIHA.

"We have to be realistic; this is an important first step for China to go into the Olympics first and just be patient because it takes time," IIHF president Rene Fasel told China Daily on Wednesday.

"They're trying very hard to build competitive teams for 2022, but it's more about sustainable development. My goal is that in 10 years we can have a men's world championship in China where maybe China could be competing for a medal."

Some observers have opined that the IIHF entering China into the 2022 tournament will dilute the quality of the Games, but Fasel said it was a positive call considering the sport's global landscape.

"If we did not qualify the two teams, I think hockey would have very little chance to go forward globally," he said.

Loose pucks:

Team China lost 5-3 to Spain in the opening game at the men's Div II Group A world championships in Serbia on Tuesday. Li Hang, Yang Mingxi and Zhang Hao scored for China, which was outshot 34-24. Other teams in the round-robin tournament are Australia, Belgium, Croatia and Serbia… Chinese Taipei ended a perfect week in Romania on Tuesday by winning the women's Division II Group B championship. With wins over Romania, Croatia, Iceland, New Zealand and Turkey, Chinese Taipei secured its second promotion in three seasons of IIHF competition.

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