Simon Chen's path to Vancouver Canucks Development Camp has been anything but ordinary.
Chen, who was born and grew up in Beijing, China, went to the mall with his mom when he was six-years-old. They met a few other families, with the moms wanting to shop and the kids wanting to play. The rambunctious scallywags were swiftly loaded into a car and dropped off at a nearby rink.
Stay. Out. Of. Trouble.
Chen found the opposite of mischief. He discovered his passion.
"We saw two kids with hockey gear on and watched them," said Chen, Tuesday afternoon at UBC. "It looked like a real gentleman's sport and we wanted to pick it up. I was also a really chubby kid back then and wanted to lose some weight, so I thought it looked like good cardio."
Chen's uncle lived in Sweden, where hockey is slightly bigger than in China, and he got equipment for Simon. From there it's been hockey, hockey, hockey for the 20-year-old.
Chen, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound defenceman, played for the BCHL's Cowichan Valley Capitals last season (winning the team's Most Improved Player award above), following two years playing prep school hockey at Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts. He relocated to Cowichan Valley, on Vancouver Island, looking for a better opportunity to develop his skills. He found it, and now he's on the same ice as Canucks 1st round picks Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and Elias Pettersson.
Video: DEV CAMP | Simon Chen Attends Prospects Camp
An opportunity to develop his game is all Chen is asking for. He understands what his growth means in China and that's one of his driving motivators, alongside landing an NCAA Div 1 scholarship and representing his country at the 2022 Winter Olympics in his home country.
"Hockey in China is like Ping-Pong in Canada, it's not that popular," laughed Chen. "It's going to take some time and some patience to really grow the sport; every step we take here is a big one.
"It's such a valuable experience for me to learn everything here, on and off the ice. There are so many skills I've never been taught before and here I have a chance to learn at such a high level. It's special for me."
Chen mentioned his friend Andong Song, the first China-born hockey player to be drafted in the NHL, as proof that good things are happening with hockey in China.
Canucks president Trevor Linden spoke firsthand with China's hockey federation this past March during a trip to Beijing to announce two upcoming exhibition games that will play out against the Los Angeles Kings in China this fall.
Linden said he could feel their love of winter sports and it made an impact on him. He wanted to help grow their hockey culture beyond the camps the Canucks run in China every summer.
"We've done camps there over the last few summers, we're heading to China for pre-season games in the fall and we thought having one of their top young players at our camp would further his development," said Linden. "With him playing in the BCHL, it just made sense for Simon to be here this week."
Although Chen will not be joining the Canucks in China this fall, Linden is well aware of the impact this week will have on his ultimate hockey goal.
"We want to help develop their young players, to develop that culture and it starts with one. If Simon represents his country in 2022, that would be a real thrill for him and we'd also have played a part in that as well."
Chen will again be on the ice Wednesday as Canucks Development Camp continues at UBC.