Hockey is not a popular sport in China but the Chinese women’s Olympic team is fighting to change that.
With some 200 women playing hockey in China, and only five amateur teams across the world’s most populous nation, the sport has next to no public profile. But the head of the Chinese women’s team, Tiande Yu, dreams of one day seeing professional hockey games on his television in China; he’s negotiating the prospect of this right now.
Convinced the game has the potential to be popular again, as it was in the 1980s, Yu said he is working hard to form a partnership with Canada to bring hockey back to China.
“Our first plan is to make people like the game, second is to send our players to Canada for training,” Yu said. “Chinese hockey cannot develop without Canada’s support.”
To drive the point home, Yu followed the action on Wednesday night as his Chinese nationals fell to the Sir Wilfred Laurier’s Golden Hawks at the Victoria Village Arena. The game was part of a series of ‘friendlies’ being played by the Chinese women in advance of the Vancouver Olympics.
“You want to play better table tennis, you go to China. You want to play better hockey, you go to Canada,” said Yu.
With limited amount of ice, which is only available in China’s northern regions, it’s hard to find people who play hockey and even more difficult to pick a team of excellent players, explains Yu.
The women on the team are all born and raised in China and range from 17-21 years old; most were discovered in elementary or middle school.
Because there is very little media attention on the sport, the women had to come across hockey on their own.
“I was walking down the street when I saw a group of people fighting for a hockey puck. I enjoyed skiing because it was fast and thought skating would be the same. I joined the national team in 2009,” said Dan Ni Han, 19, team China’s goalie.
Canada is a great place for the Chinese team to find their feet and Yu lauds the Canadian game, which he calls more physically demanding than the European game.
Yu’s goal is to bring a Canadian coach to China to provide better training for his team, as well as be able to send his best players to Canada to play and maybe make it into the NHL one day.