What Hockey is like...

What Hockey is like in Beijing - Tiger Yan, New York University

"Hockey in China was almost nonexistent when I was born. The only place where you can find any hockey is in the province of Harbin located in far North, a twelve hour train ride from where I lived, Beijing. My dad went to college in the North and fell in love with the sport, so he took me to one of the only two ice rinks in a mall in Beijing. (You could only find ice rinks in malls back then as an auxiliary entertainment… Nobody drives to the ice rink just to ice skate… seemed like an absurd thing back then in China.) 

By some opportunity, hockey just begun in Beijing: retired athletes from the North travel down to teach the sport in the tiny rink we had, or if you deromanticize it, come down to the big city to earn a better living. Since you simply couldn't rent ice time, we would carve out a piece of area within the blue line during public skating time with cones and learn to skate first before we held hockey sticks. I was five at the time and just like my dad, I fell in love with the sport as well immediately. The genius idea of building an ice rink within a shopping mall attracted many kids like me back then to try it out. Many of those children became my best friends until today. 

I think about it now, it was a miracle that I actually managed to preserver this sport in a country lacks such a system of hockey competition. There was no league, no matches, just a couple of coaches who brought their enthusiasm for the sports to the city. 

"we would carve out a piece of area within the blue line during public skating time with cones"

I believe that hockey is the kind of sport where it is simply very entertaining to watch, and I think kids like myself, who tried it out at the mall, enjoyed that innocent comradeship that we built. Not only is hockey a team sport, it is also something special that we share, not like soccer, not like basketball, or not like badminton where almost everyone can pick it up right away. It is fast, physical and mostly visually entertaining. The lure of hockey was and still is magic itself. 

In just two years, when I was seven, there were about three teams in Beijing. (I can confidently estimate that there were about six youth teams in the whole country.) There was still no league, so we had to schedule matches between the teams ourselves, which was so difficult because of ice time. 

Anyway, my father along with my teammate’s father organized the first youth hockey league in China when I was nine which had four teams total all located in Beijing for the first season - (two out of the four teams played in the same rink). Although, we only had one game and one practice per week, my lives evolved around this amazing sport. My team truly became my second family.

We thought we were invincible when we travelled to the Bell Capital Cup in Ottowa the Winter of 2008, where we were the champion of Atom House A level. (I only learnt that there were other divisions as well two years after). The trip absolutely opened our eyes however, where we saw many rinks standing by itself instead of built inside a mall. A tournament that had hundreds of teams? Thats completely insane! But, we thought we were the best anyway cause we won first place (of House A)!

Hockey developed quickly in China, specifically in Beijing. It is an expensive sport, with imported equipment and scarce land resources, but the economic boom during the 2000s made it possible for more to play hockey in China, where it was considered a luxury sport. 

"flew to the States by myself at the age of twelve to join the team for a practice."

My parents had plans to give me opportunities to study abroad in the States for academics and hockey. Fall 2012, when my dad travelled to the States to scout locations, one phone call back to China changed my life, when he found a defensemen spot open on Connecticut Wolfpack, located in Cromwell, a triple A team placed 30th in the States. It was November, during my second third month. My perfect opportunity was sitting right in front of me. For me to play on a triple A team was unbelievable. I ditched school and flew to the States by myself at the age of twelve to join the team for a practice. The coached took me in, to my surprise. Moving to the States was exciting but challenging; beyond the language barrier and cultural differences, our family was separated. I carried a travel visa so I had no school to go to and we had no place to stay so my father and I lived in a motel for a year. It was one of the hardest times of my life but was also the most cherished part. I wouldn't have come to the States any other way. 

I acquired a green card a year later and was reunited with the rest of my immediate family. We settled in Connecticut and I finally went to school. But, the pressure of college applications and the importance of academics grew by the years. They grew so much so that I quit hockey during the middle of my Junior year season in high school. 

Getting into NYU freed me temporarily in the way that I don’t have to stress over school work and the common application anymore. I think my first year at the school is when I can finally take a break. Playing on the NYU hockey team gave me a resolution from the years when I regretfully quit the sport. My passion for the sport is  definitely not fading. 

 Though my father isn’t in charge of the youth hockey league in Beijing anymore, it has grown to have three hundred teams now in just the city of Beijing. Anyone can see market opportunities for hockey’s development in China: it is simply unprecedented. There are fifteen plus ice rinks in Beijing right now and we are developing elementary school, middle school and high school hockey leagues right now. CHL-Chinese Hockey League is on its planning, Putin signed over a KHL team to Beijing and a teammate and a very good friend of mine got drafted to the NHL (Misha Song).  As a member of the founding of Chinese hockey, I am definitely sure that I will give back to the community that developed me into the person and athlete I am today. Being a part of the hockey development in China exposed me to invaluable relationships and comradeships I cherish till today. "

Tiger Yan is a Freshman at NYU for 16/17 season - NYU

Sam Cheema