Sports / China

Ice hockey energized by Olympic fanfare

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2015-10-27 07:39

Ice hockey is riding on the momentum of Beijing's successful Winter Olympics bid to involve more Chinese youth in the sport.

The yelling of more than 20 children in full ice hockey gear and the sounds of skates cutting hard into the ice easily attracted passers-by in a north Beijing mall as the Beijing Minor Hockey League kicked off its 2015-16 season at the indoor rink on Saturday.

Thanks to the promotion through Beijing's successful 2022 Winter Olympics bid, junior participation in ice hockey has been surging in North China, highlighted by the rapid expansion of the minor league, which was initiated by the Beijing Hockey Association in 2008.

 Ice hockey energized by Olympic fanfare

Junior ice hockey players from Beijing Fire Dragon (light jerseys) play Hulk Flagship in Beijing on Saturday in the first-round of the Beijing Minor Hockey League's 2015-16 season for players under 10 years old. Chai Hua / For China Daily

According to the BHA, a record 116 club teams and more than 1,700 children have registered with the league to compete in five age groups from under-6 to under-14. The league only featured four teams with fewer than 20 players in its inaugural season.

"There are many more children, most from well-off families, embracing ice hockey as an affordable hobby with more accessible facilities in Beijing and more exposure of the sport," said Liu Ge, vice-president and secretary-general of the BHA.

This season has also attracted neighboring teams from Tianjin and Hebei, as well as the northeastern Chinese cities of Harbin and Qiqihar, to join the competition, making the league a regional stage for hockey.

"The impact of Beijing's successful Winter Olympics bid has manifested with the league's fast growth. The intercity competition echoes the goal of Beijing's bid to involve 300 million Chinese people in winter sports by 2022," said Sun Xuecai, director of Beijing Sports Bureau.

Ice hockey energized by Olympic fanfare

Despite the relatively low competitive level, the junior league has borne fruit as Beijing teenager Song Andong, who started training with a Beijing club at 5, was drafted by the New York Islanders in June to become the first Chinese to join the National Hockey League in North America.

A group of 97 Chinese children older than 10 are currently studying and training in hockey-specialized schools and colleges in North America, according to Ying Da, honorary president of the BHA.

"The competitive level of Chinese children remains far from the NHL caliber, but the huge market potential here on the heels of Beijing winning the Winter Olympics appeals to North American clubs," said Ying, who was among the first group of middle-class Chinese parents to send their children abroad for hockey programs in 2007.

Li Bochen, a third-grader with Beijing No 2 Experimental Primary School, said he's been addicted to the sport through consistent training - at least two sessions a week - since 2012.

"I hope I can make it to the NHL one day like big brother Song and I believe I can do it," said the 8-year-old.

To provide more international exposure for the children, BHA has reached an agreement with the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia to bring several high-level Russian youth teams including CSKA Moscow to play friendly games with local clubs early next year.

(China Daily 10/27/2015 page4)

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