AURORA, Canada – Hockey’s family tree has stretched out considerably from its North American roots and now includes branches spanning the globe, including China.
The Aurora Junior Panthers were one of several teams to host games against the Chinese women’s national team during a two-month tour of Canada.
The Chinese lost the game 5-1 to the Panthers, but focussed on the positive aspects.
“We are a young team and this gives our new players international experience,” said team captain Baiwei Yu. The global stage is a very familiar place for Yu, who has played several international hockey events, most notably the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
With the current youth movement Chinese women’s hockey wants to ensure the program’s growth, but there have been recent growing pains.
If the Olympics were held today, China would probably not qualify. The team was relegated to the IIHF’s third tier within only two years and will participate at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B in Hull, Great Britain, next spring.
Along with the drop in international ranking came a coaching change. Mikhail Chekanov takes over the reins from Finnish coach Hannu Saintula in an attempt to change the squad’s fortunes in time for Sochi.
Chekhanov has dealt with young teams before, having worked with the Russian Hockey Federation coaching staff for U17 and U16 (men’s) national teams.
The international flavours are a nice touch. “We can’t always travel so it’s good to learn (from coaches) how the game is played elsewhere,” said Yu.
Although it could be very difficult to take the fact that her team has gone from Olympic qualification to finishing last in their most recent IIHF event, Yu takes it in stride.
“We’re like all hockey players. We want to be the best and know it will be a lot of hard work,” said Yu.
It wasn’t just the players from China and Aurora who put in a lot of effort. People from several organizations including the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, Ontario Women’s Hockey Association and the Central York Girls Hockey Association spent countless hours making sure everything went smoothly, perhaps none more so than Jane Voorheis.
“Jane did an amazing job in organizing the event and the Town of Aurora was a great partner,” said Kim Hullah, Administrator, Central York Girls Hockey Association.
“Language was the biggest barrier,” said Voorheis during a rare free minute at the game, “but our shared passion for women’s hockey made it work.”
While being away from home for two months has some drawbacks, it also presents opportunities.
“I love to shop!” declared the 23-year-old defender before heading to a post-game banquet for both teams. In addition to clothing, shoes, and purses Yu and her teammates take advantage of how readily available hockey gear is in Canada and the numerous hockey-only speciality shops.
And just where do the Chinese women see themselves using their newly acquired goodies?
“Sochi. (It’ll take) Two years to develop young players. Just in time,” smiled Yu as she headed off to join her teammates.
Have no doubt China’s goal is to be back in Sochi. For now a first step would be to get back to the second tier of women’s hockey next spring in Hull by defeating the likes of France, Denmark, Italy, Great Britain and the Netherlands.