When Zhongde Yu left China, he was an energized student pursuing a Masters degree in Canada. When he returned, he was an energized hockey coach in a country still discovering the sport.
Born in China, Zhongde Yu first strapped on skates when he moved to Montreal in 1996 to pursue a computer science degree at Concordia University. He quickly became captivated by this new, action-packed game that inundated Canadian culture.
"That was a special moment, when I witnessed the hockey fans gathered outside the Forum for the last game played there," Zhongde told NHL.com. "And when I heard that the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. Those are my first impressions of ice hockey in Canada."
While pursuing his studies and improving his English, Zhongde also began playing hockey, learning the game from friends and neighbors in Montreal.
HOCKEY IS FOR EVERYONE
Hockey helping Army's RomeshaBy Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer
Clinton Romesha, a quiet U.S. Army staff sergeant, was looking for a way to get to know his fellow soldiers. That's how he discovered hockey. READ MORE ›
"I used to love soccer, but in Montreal I switched from soccer to hockey," Zhongde said. "I like the feeling of skating and handling the puck. Gradually, I could feel the passion and enjoyed the games like many Canadian fans. This passion continues in my life, no matter where I go."
When he returned to his native China in 2002 to work as a software engineer, he was a Canadian citizen and had adopted an English first name, Jordan. He also immediately sought out an adult hockey team with which to play. But in a country of over one billion people, that wasn't a simple task.
The International Ice Hockey Federation reports that only 613 people in China play hockey. But Zhongde claims that number is actually higher and sees the game growing in China as commercial centers in major cities build more ice rinks.
"Although hockey is not popular in China, those who play love hockey so much," said Zhongde. "With more and more commercial indoor rinks [being] constructed in shopping malls nationwide, more and more people get to know ice hockey."
China's hockey community may be small, but it is spirited.
Jordan is part of a group of 30-40 adult hockey players that regularly play in the Northeast city of Shenyang. And across the nation, there are more than 460 children competing in winter leagues. With international coaches helping to develop youth programs in cities throughout China, Beijing officials have begun implementing an age-appropriate development system similar to the North American model.
Considering the number of registered players growing in parts of China, Zhongde isn't content to just play hockey. He's helping to develop the sport by volunteering as a translator for Canadian Hockey Camps International, a non-profit hockey organization that coaches camps and clinics in Harbin, which is the capital of the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang.
As one of the few hockey players in the region who is also fluently bilingual, Jordan acts as a crucial conduit between local and visiting coaches who work together to set up camps in the region. It's a unique challenge for Zhongde, especially considering certain hockey terms don’t actually have a proper Chinese translation.
Ultimately, it's through the efforts of passionate people like Zhongde that hockey is beginning to grow in China. And the experience is just as gratifying for Zhongde as for any of the local children discovering the game for the first time.
"I thank this sport and feel lucky to learn it in Canada," Zhongde said. "Now I hope we can do more to let more people [learn] hockey, come to love it and enjoy it in their life. Hockey can let people from different parts of the world [get] to know each other more."