Skip to Main Content
The Official Site of the Arizona Coyotes

Asian Americans Impact, Strengthen Valley Hockey Growth

Inclusivity continues to influence local hockey culture

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Diversity continues to progress the Valley hockey scene.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and the focus is on the local Asian community's participation, contribution, and growth.

Kayman Wong sees it first-hand. Wong, who is Chinese American, has coached at various levels in the Phoenix area since the early 2000s. He made a significant observation last season. His son, Kace, 12, a left winger, played for the Jr. Sun Devils. Kace was one of five Asian Americans on the squad.

"That was the most I had ever seen," Kayman Wong said. 

Hockey, historically, has a predominantly white sport. However, change continues to occur. 

"We put Kace in the Little Howler's (learn-to-play) program and we would start to see Asian parents and Asian kids start to bring their families and their kids in," Wong said. "It reminded me a lot of when I was a kid, because they would come with friends, two Asians, two or three of them by themselves. You'd never see them by themselves, they'd usually be in groups."

Wong, raised in Toronto, was introduced to hockey by a family friend. 

"Toronto is much more of a melting pot than Phoenix," Wong said. "But even saying that, when I started playing, it was a predominantly white sport and there were very few minorities. The players that were already playing were not necessarily in my circle of friends.

"I just happened to have one Asian friend who was playing hockey. Otherwise, to be very honest with you, I probably wouldn't be playing hockey. I'm the only one in the family, other than my son, in a family of 20, to play the sport."

Zach Izumi is the Manager of Grassroots Marketing for the Coyotes Hockey Development Department. He also is a head coach for the Arizona Kachinas, the Coyotes' official girls' hockey association. Izumi, who is Japanese American, coaches the 12U AA Kachinas team; he has coached youth hockey in the Valley for seven years.

Izumi agrees with Wong's assessment. 

"Especially the last couple of years, for sure," Izumi said. "I think diversity has been a major focus. So, instead of just growing the game of hockey, it's about getting the families who don't necessarily know about hockey into the sport. When we go into the rinks now, it's not just the old stereotype. You see different ethnicities, and it's extremely cool -- especially here in the Valley."

Izumi was born and raised in Southern California. He developed his passion through roller hockey, which he found far more multicultural than ice hockey. His transition to ice hockey was challenging, and at times, uncomfortable. 

"I got stereotyped a little bit," Izumi said. "I remember one of my first hockey teams, my nickname was 'Jappy.' I didn't really think that was racist at the time. I remember going home and telling my dad that, and he was like, 'What the hell? They can't just call you that.' I just thought it was a nickname. I didn't think anything of it. 

"They're trying to eliminate that part of the game, the racism," he said. "The racist slurs and things like that. It's making it more comfortable for hockey players of all ethnicities." 

Diversification is progressing on the girls' side of the game, as well. Simona Wong - no relation to Kayman Wong -- is Chinese American. Her daughter, Sophie, plays in the Kachinas program. 

Sophie, a left winger, plays on the 14U AA Kachinas team. She began skating when she was five, and planted the hockey seed for her mother, Simona, who plays in the Kachinas adult program. Simona and Sophie notice a strong contingent of Asian players when the Kachinas play California teams.

"Most people (in the hockey community) are very welcoming," Simona Wong said.

"I do look for Asians on the ice (when we watch NHL games)," Simona continued. "And that's a big deal. We were watching the playoffs this week -- and it just hits home that there are more people out there of our race, so it's just nice."

Ivy Wong -- also no relation to Kayman or Simona -- was born and raised in China and emigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s. Her two daughters, Baylin and Faye, play in the Kachinas youth program. Baylin is in the Kachinas 14U program; Faye is in the Kachinas 10U program.

Kachinas hockey is a family affair for them, too. Ivy Wong plays in the adult Kachinas program. 

"One day, I took my daughters ice skating with me," Wong said. "We all had so much fun -- and we were hooked. They have learn-to-skate programs at Ice Den Chandler, and then they have Little Howlers. All of these programs gave my kids the opportunity to learn how to skate and play and get into hockey programs. And then after a year or so, I saw them having so much fun, I said, 'I'm going to give it a try.' Right now, I'm in three different leagues, beginner's leagues. I just love hockey. We watch hockey games, NHL games all the time. It has just become a big part of our daily lives."

Wong was intimidated when she first began to play, mostly because of her size. The males she played in her adult learn-to-play programs towered over her. "I'm 5'1", I'm a small Asian girl. So, when people find out I play hockey, they're like, 'Really?'

"I wish I knew (about hockey) in my teens or my 20s. I feel Iost a lot of good years not playing hockey, but it's never too late. 

"Now when I go to the hockey rink, I see more of other races -- not only just white, even though it is still predominantly white because of history. I see it slowly expanding, becoming more and more of a melting pot. I think more people are going to continue to get exposed and with more growth, other races, including Asian, Black, and Hispanic. I think it's exposure -- and we are very lucky we've had exposure. But I think many other people don't know about it or haven't been exposed to it yet."

Kayman Wong recently took one of his Jr. Sun Devils teams to a tournament, and he saw a material difference.

"I was amazed at how many Asian names were on the back of the jerseys," Wong said. "It was pretty cool. I think even our players and the parents from Arizona noticed it too. It was shocking, I think, for everybody from Arizona to see that because we don't have that (level of) diversity here."

Though Asian role models in hockey may have been few, Kayman Wong names a few who have inspired him.

"Paul Kariya was a big one," Wong said. "And so was Richard Park -- but Kariya more than anything else because of how small he was. It was inspiring to me, not being a big guy." 

Zach Izumi also mentioned Kariya, Park and Nick Suzuki, who currently plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

Izumi said seeing Asian NHL players gave him the confidence that, "Maybe I could probably make it somewhere in hockey."

And that somewhere, for Izumi, is his role as one of the key youth hockey coaches in the Valley.

"If I can make one kid believe -- and not just an Asian American kid, but any kid -- that same idea, too, my day - my career - would be made," Izumi said. "That means I was able to change that kid's idea of hockey being a stereotypically exclusive sport."

View More