Over at Vice Sports, Sheng Peng describes the heavy investments being made into China into making China a hockey superpower. Russia is playing a particularly large role, in providing training and guidance, but there are also influences from Europe.
There is no Chinese word for “puck.” In fact, the most literal translation for “bingqiu”—Chinese for hockey—is “ice ball.” The Chinese are about as familiar with hockey as Wayne Gretzky is with badminton.
Yet off the West 4th Ring of Beijing on Sept. 5, 2016, the Kunlun Red Star were taking the ice for their home debut at LeSports Center. The Red Star are the newest franchise of the Russian-based KHL, thought to be the second-best league in the world after the NHL. In other words, what were they doing here?
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China wants to flex again, as it did during the 2008 Summer Olympics. This time, the country is training to be a hockey heavyweight. Like Russia, the United States, or Canada. Really.
China has the capital. And right now, it has the motivation: In just six short years, all eyes will once again be on Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
China, as host country, will have a chance to field squads for both the men’s and women’s ice hockey tournaments. In arguably the Games’ most prestigious event, the hunger to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the best in the world is naturally greater. Not that far behind, also, is the specter of the “sick man of Asia”, which has dogged the Middle Kingdom’s last century.
But how can China transform its IIHF 37th-ranked men’s national team, which plays literally three rungs below the elite, into a unit with even a puncher’s chance in 2022?