|Since Project Hope was born in 2006, 17 rinks have been built in 17 school yards in the Heilongjiang Province of China.|
All the while, Islanders owner Charles Wang, sitting with his two hockey minds 15 rows up from the ice in Nassau Coliseum, marveled like a proud father as he listened to these NHL veterans dissect the kid’s game.
“We were talking about that No. 6, he could skate. You could tell he has some hockey sense,” Snow said. “Once I get his name he’ll be on our radar.”
His name is Liu Qing. He’s 11-years-old and he’s from Qiqihaer in China’s Heilongjiang Province, not exactly the ideal candidate Snow is seeking to quarterback his team’s power play.
Then again, as a result of the Charles B. Wang Ice Hockey Project Hope venture, maybe one day he will.
For now, Qing and his 25 peers from Qiqihaer and Harbin have to settle for being the stars of an altogether different and groundbreaking show, this one on Long Island as they took part in the Islanders’ annual Lighthouse Tournament for youth hockey players, which ran through this past weekend into Monday.
“They are very excited that an NHL coach can notice their skills. They are just very overwhelmed that their skills are noticeable,” Qing and teammate Zhang Shuchao explained through translator Joseph Fu during an interview this past Friday. “Everything is very exciting to see, even traffic in New York.”
Their excitement, Fu said, resulted in Qing and Shuchao getting sick on the bus ride from JFK Airport to their hotel.
Nevertheless, the exciting journey to North America for these 26 Project Hope student-athletes is a remarkable experience made possible because Wang saw an opportunity to bring hockey to his home country and is making it happen.
Since Project Hope was born in 2006, 17 rinks have been built in 17 school yards in the Heilongjiang Province. Another eight are expected to go up this year, and the Islanders, who have established an office in Harbin, hope have 40 built by 2010.
“They are very happy because they have this great opportunity to go to America, to New York and get exposure to American kids,” Qiqihaer coach Bai Chang Qing said through a translator. “They are very excited about Mr. Charles Wang giving equipment and money. They are very excited and appreciate it.”
The athletes and a contingent of roughly 25 adults arrived Thursday afternoon and were greeted at the airport by an Islanders representative. They were bussed to the Marriott Hotel adjacent to Nassau Coliseum where a reception was held in their honor.
Friday morning, Harbin and Qiqihaer squared off on the Coliseum ice for the first game of the Lighthouse Tournament’s international division. Qiqihaer, by far the dominant youth team in China, won 6-0 as Qing and Shuchao each had hat tricks.
“Teddy was saying; ‘That kid, No. 6, oh No. 6, that kid is good,’ ” Wang said. “He was just watching the pre-game skate and right away he picked out No. 6.”
The teams went on to compete in the four-team international division throughout the weekend along with a team from Finland and another from nearby Westchester County, N.Y., that agreed to play in the division.
Saturday afternoon they took part in the “Got Skills” competition at the Coliseum and later that night were honored at the Islanders’ home game against the Philadelphia Flyers. They also watched Monday afternoon’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“If they want to see clips of (Sidney) Crosby or (Alexander) Ovechkin they will go on YouTube,” Qing and Shuchao told Fu in Chinese. “If they can see the skills they have than of course they can imitate the (NHL) players. From watching they can learn.”
The players also took part in a private shopping spree at Dicks Sporting Goods at the Roosevelt Fields Mall Monday night and will spend Tuesday in New York City. The kids will skate at Rockefeller Center, and visit the NHL Powered by RBK Store as well as the Empire State Building.
“To chaperone them is quite a job,” Wang said. “Just living in a hotel is pretty cool for these kids; riding an elevator up and down. We had an incident one year where these kids rode the elevator too many times. They got sick, but just that experience is unbelievable. We want to touch their life and say this is a part of what it is, not just hockey.”
Hockey, though, is the key element in everything these kids do now. Qing and Shuchao told Fu that they skate on their home ice in Qiqihaer for two hours a day, six to seven days a week.
Their skills have improved dramatically in the two years since Project Hope was founded. In fact, Qiqihaer fashions itself as the capital of Chinese ice hockey.
“They want to either represent their country or get a chance to be like Yao Ming, play on an NHL team,” Qing and Shuchao told Fu. “Basically, they want the best they can possibly get.”
Learning the English language is the key to getting what they want. If the athletes become fluent in writing and conversational English, there’s hope to receive a Project Hope scholarship to come to the United States for high school or college.
Qing and Shuchao both told Fu they take English classes back home and they want to learn the language. In fact, when pressed, Qing, who appeared to be an extremely shy 11-year-old, said in English to three reporters, “My name is Liu Qing.”
Just like his game, it was impressive when you realize where he’s from.
Just like his game, he’s got a long way to go to reach his dreams.
Thanks to Wang and the Islanders, now there is a chance for that to happen.
“I really think it’s too early to tell,” Wang said, “although Teddy thinks No. 6 could help the power play right now.”
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com