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Hockey in China Blog: Breaking the Language Barrier

by Deb Francisco / New York Islanders

Charles Wang and the New York Islanders have invested many resources in helping hockey grow in China through the Project Hope Foundation.’s Deborah Francisco will be blogging about the hockey scene in China and about Project Hope as she coaches a week-long hockey camp in Harbin, China.

What had motivated me to fly half-way round the world to coach hockey in a country where I could barely speak a word of the language? The half-dozen hockey-stick-clutching Chinese kids who greeted our team of coaches as we arrived at the ice rink in Harbin on Wednesday afternoon answered that question for me.

I had journeyed 36-hours from Vancouver with a team of six other coaches to put on a week-long Canadian-style hockey camp for the children of Harbin – a city of approximately 9 million located in Northern China. Harbin also happens to be the hockey capital of China, which is why Charles Wang and the New York Islanders have invested so much into the hockey program here.

In a country of over one billion people, the International Ice Hockey Federation reports that only 613 play hockey. According to Yin-Bin, the head coach of the Harbin ZunGuan Ice Hockey Club, Harbin boasts five different hockey schools and ten different hockey teams with approximately 150 youth players altogether. These programs develop the majority of China’s national team players. In fact, two of the local coaches helping with the camp this week are former players from the China Men’s National Team.

Canadian Hockey Camps International is here in Harbin this week attempting for the first time ever to put on a North American style camp for the Chinese kids. This consists of two ice times a day plus dryland training, coaches corner and ball hockey. Today was our first full day of camp and it was a smashing success thanks to our awesome coaches.

Our team of dedicated coaches hails from North America and China and each coach is here on a volunteer basis. Our translator, Jordan, is one such coach. He took the week off of work and travelled up to Harbin to serve as our sole link to the kids – bridging the gap between our very limited Chinese and the kids' broken English.

Jordan has the hockey bug. He was born in China but pursued higher education in Montreal for several years before finally becoming a Canadian citizen. He took up the sport of ice hockey during his time in Montreal and his face lights up each time he cradles the puck on the end of his stick and he zips around the ice. Jordan is like any youth hockey coach – his passion for the sport of hockey compels him to sacrifice his time to pass it on to others. And the kids here are obviously grateful for that sacrifice. They work hard at each drill, listen well and are very respectful of the coaching staff – even when they have no idea what we are saying.

With only one translator for the entire camp we had to do dryland training without a translator today. However, the kids were able to figure everything out just by watching us demonstrate. That’s the great thing about hockey; It forms a bond that brings us together and that transcends language barriers and cultural understandings. That is what brought us here to China and I’m excited to learn more about the kids we are coaching so I can share some of their stories here.

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