[Ed. note: One of the many ways that the Islanders are growing the game of hockey in China is by developing and employing coaches for the Chinese Ice Hockey Association. The first Long Islander to make the journey is Glen Cove native Kelly MacKinnon, a former goaltender at Brown University and former member of the NHL's Broadcasting department. In her first journal for newyorkislanders.com, Kelly writes about how she received this unique opportunity and her first day on the job as head coach of the Chinese National Women's Team].
It was only a month ago that I was quietly tucked into bed, looking forward to the extra sleep that unemployment allowed me. Despite the CBA being signed and hockey due to return in the fall, I still had not found employment that captialized on my four and half years of working at the NHL office. After a long girls' weekend, I was ready to once again begin a week of job searching that had been an on-going task for far too long.
But that morning changed my life in ways I never would have expected. I received a call from Dan Marshall, the Director of Hockey at the Islanders practice rink, Iceworks. Dan said I needed to call Mike Milbury as soon as possible.
I didn't even get the chance to dial as, seconds later, my phone rang again and it was the man himself this time. Mike aplogized for waking me up but remarked that when opportunity knocks it doesn't matter what time it is. He proceded to offer me the head coaching position for the Chinese Women's National Ice Hockey team.
My intial response was what you'd might expect -- "Excuse me, what did you just say." After repeating his offer and suggesting I have a cup of coffee and a shower, we agreed to speak in a couple of hours.
I met with both Mike and Charles Wang and was intrigued by the details. It was an amazing opportunity and I felt I had no choice but to accept the offer. That is how I found myself on a plane headed to China to coach hockey.
When I arrived for my stopever in Beijing it was like entering a new world. I was the only caucasian female in the whole airport and everyone just stared at me, or at least I thought they were. I felt out of place and wondered how I was going to fill up my three-hour layover. Then I spotted a Starbucks. It was like an oasis where I had my last good cup of coffee and wrote in my journal. Later in the day, I was jarred awake by a bumpy landing. I was in Harbin China, my new home.
After I collected my baggage, I was greated by a bunch of strange smiling faces that were eagerly awaiting my arrival. There was Mr. Wong, the Islanders representative in Harbin, the team leaders, and Jie Hu from the Chinese Ice Hockey Association and my translator for the week. I was ushered off to a dark training compound where the Woman's National Ice Hockey team trains and lives alongside figure skaters, speed skaters and the curling team.
Even after I thanked everyone and was left alone, it still did not hit me where I was and the adventure I was about to embark on. Sleep came quickly after such a long journey and an emotional departure.
A weird click-clacking noise woke me early the next morning. I was stunned to see that there was a roller coaster 25 feet away from my window that darkness had hidden the night before. It was an ironic twist that my room should face this ride when that is exactly what my life had felt. The translator's knock on my door cut short my pondering and it was time for me to get dressed and meet my new team.
The girls were going through their daily morning exercises when I walked over to be introduced. It was nerve-racking to say the least to have all of these strange faces staring at me and my brain in overdrive of what to say and how to say it so it could be translated. All of this on about four hours of sleep and a stomach of nerves. For once in my life I was actually at a loss for words and there was no elequant speach as I had imagined.
After a 6331-mile journey and a formal introduction, there was no turning back -- or did I want to. This is not the career path that I orginally set out on. It is most certainly not the conservative direction that I thought my college education would lead to.
It is an opportunity to teach and grow the game and use my passion that has defined me as a person.
It is an opportunity to shape and mold young women by providing them opportunites that they might not have had otherwise.
It is an opportunity for me to grow as a person and expand my knowledge of another culture while sharing my own.
It is an opportunity that I have been blessed with, will enthusiastically embrace, and look forward to sharing.