With dozens of American and Chinese news outlets on hand, the kids from Qiqihar and Harbin, China played in the opening game of the Lighthouse Tournament's International Division on Friday morning. Islanders Owner Charles Wang was also in attendance, along with general manager Garth Snow, head coach Ted Nolan, Project Hope chief representative Mr. Wang Jinyu.
Wearing smiles on their faces, the 25 children entered the Nassau Coliseum ice surface.
"It's wonderful to see the smiles on these kids' faces coming on and off the ice," Charles Wang said at a press conference following the game. "China is not known for its hockey, but we've had a representative office there for the past four years, getting it to start at the grassroots level. There are kids there who love playing hockey and Project Hope is about bringing hockey to the children. We have already built 17 rinks in China and we're hoping to build another eight this year. We've multiplied the number of kids involved in hockey in China by about 600 percent. And we hope to continue that. Perhaps one day we'll have a Yao Ming out of China for hockey."
Qiqihar makes their second appearance on Long Island, after competing in last year's Project Hope Invitational. They, along with Harbin, will compete against the Westchester Mariners and Ilves-Oy from Finland in the International Division of the Lighthouse Tournament, which also contains a Long Island Division that began its round-robin play earlier this week.
On Friday, Qiqihar knocked off their Chinese counterparts by the score of 6-0. Zhang Shuchao and Liu Qing, who both played in last year's tournament, each recorded hat tricks to lead Qiqihar to the tournament's first victory. Li Jiaxu recorded the shutout.
"Sitting up in the stands, Teddy told me that number 6 (Liu Qing) looked good out there," said Charles. "And that was just in warm-ups."
As the Chinese kids left the ice and headed for the locker room, they were greeted by Islanders players, who were getting ready for their practice later in the day. High-fiving the kids and telling them good job, the players were delighted to see the youth hockey players from China.
"It was great to see these kids from China playing out there on the ice," said defenseman Andy Sutton. "Iit was nice for me to see them live. It's a great thing Mr. Wang has done, helping to spread hockey to China."
"When I bought the Islanders, I thought there was so much we could connect through sports," said Mr. Wang. "I wanted to find a way for people here to reach over to the people in China. The hope was that one day if the President of China was interviewed and asked if he'd ever been to the United States, he'd say 'yes, when I was nine years old I played in the Lighthouse Tournament.' That's what we'd like to see."
Islanders general manager Garth Snow also fielded questions following the press conference.
"For me, the most special things are seeing the smiles on their faces and watching them celebrate after a goal," said Snow to a group of reporters. "It's like a smaller, younger version of Bill Guerin and Mike Comrie. It reminds me of the memories I have growing up and going to Montreal to play in a pee wee tournament up there. We stayed in the opposing goalie's house and then our family returned the favor later in the season. It's the memories outside of the rink that makes this a special event."
Qiqihar and Harbin continue their round-robin play later today at Islanders Iceworks. Their tournament concludes on Championship Sunday, when the two top teams from their division compete for the Division's trophy.
On Tuesday, the two Chinese teams will spend all day touring New York City with stops at Rockefeller Center, the NHL Store and the top of the Empire State Building.For more on the Lighthouse Tournament, check out the Lighthouse Tournament Blog.Watch Islanders TV all weekend long for exclusive coverage of the Lighthouse Tournament.