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Flames alumni look back on their journey to China in 2013


As far as rink-views go, this one rates right up near the top.

"Spectacular,'' recalls Colin Patterson. "Absolutely spectacular. The rink is 12 stories up. Inside a shopping mall. 

"You're on the ice, you can look out a window and see the harbour."

The Flames have, in fact, played in the China/Hong Kong market before. Five years ago, the ice surface high up in MegaBox Mall in Kowloon, the old, traditional section, was home to the Hockey Night in Hong Kong initiative which saw alumni hold clinics and pick-up games with those attending the camps.

One of Calgary's two upcoming Asian exhibition dates this fall against Boston, Sept. 13, would be held in Shenzhen, close to Hong Kong.

Seven Flames' alumni from the 1989 Stanley Cup champs - Patterson, Lanny McDonald, Perry Berezan, Jim Peplinski, Joel Otto, Jamie Macoun and Dana Murzyn - were among a troupe of 11 ex-players, wives included, that headed to Hong Kong as guests of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to promote hockey.

Also part of the junket were ex-Oilers Chris Joseph and Fernando Pisani, as well as Montreal Canadiens' legend Yvan Cournoyer.

"The hockey side was pretty cool," says Berezan. "There was a massive hockey school (ex-NHLer) Barry Beck was running, four groups, so we were out there almost all day. A lot of talent there, and you could tell how into it they were."

The time spent with the kids on-ice made the trip for left-winger Patterson.

"I remember one five-year-old girl in particular,'' he recalls. "She might've been six. A fantastic skater. Couldn't speak a lick of English. But she really wanted to be good, to improve.

"I met her parents, who couldn't speak a lick of English, either. But that desire to be better, to love being on the ice and really get better came across.

"That language is universal."

The event was staged in June.

"I remember it being hot,'' recalls Macoun, "And I mean hot. You could walk out of the hotel, stand for a couple minutes and you were perspiring.

"I read a few books talking about what it was like the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, and we walk out of our hotel and we're a block away from a place mentioned in the books. I found that part really interesting."

For Peplinski, the towering historical context of the country, too, proved intoxicating.

"I've read a lot about Hong Kong and China. What has been done in that country is mind-boggling."

The group took a side trip to Beijing after staging the clinics to do the guidebook touring.

"Walking up the Great Wall,'' reports McDonald, "pretty much to the top was exhilarating, exhausting, unbelievable. You name it.

"Such a fun time for all of us."

The Asian market is one that is just beginning to be tapped by the North American sports fraternity. Given the population there, a growing interest in hockey and a fierce determination to be good at what they embrace, the odds of growing the game are great.

"I went to visit Pierre Page in Austria when he was coaching Red Bull in Salzburg and one of the team's objectives there was to put the first Chinese-born player in the National Hockey League,'' says Peplinski.

"If you train someone properly, they're talented and you put the proper resources into the development, the plant will grow as high as the sun and the moisture and the good earth you give it.

"It won't surprise me to see (China) come along one day - soon - and be producing really, really good hockey players."

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