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Hockey in China Blog: Project Hope

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. NHL.com’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.

To read previous posts in this blog, CLICK HERE.

During our first ice session I noticed three boys showed up wearing Charles B. Wang Project Hope jerseys and I was eager to talk to them to find out about their involvement in the program. As the week has progressed more and more kids have donned the white and orange Project Hope jerseys and I also started to notice the logo in other places – etched on a few sticks, several pairs of pants, equipment bags, a pair of gloves, and on a set of goalie pads. None of the kids were dressed head to toe in a set of Project Hope gear, but different pieces are certainly making the rounds and being shared by many kids.

On the second day a new girl showed up to our afternoon ice session wearing a bright orange Project Hope jersey. She looked much older than most of the kids at the camp but when I asked the local head coach, Yin-Bin, said she is only 14. Her skating immediately stood out to me and I was excited to ask her how she was involved with Project Hope.

I caught up with her right after the ice session, she was sitting on the benches right beside the ice when I asked her about Project Hope. Because of the way the rink is set up, we have to put our skates on and take them off on the benches right next to the ice because there is no way to get from the dressing rooms to the ice without destroying your skate blades. In fact, the rink here doesn’t have normal player’s benches or even glass that goes all the way around. Only the back half of the ice has glass around it, the middle parts just have boards and nothing else and the other end has a bit of netting to keep pucks from nailing the fans that gather at that end to watch. The facility technically has two rinks, this one is more of the practice rink that they keep running year-round. Across the court-yard there is a real hockey arena that is used for International competitions and such, but right now it’s boarded up for the season. But all of the dressing rooms are in the main rink, so we put our gear on in there and then walk across the court-yard to the practice rink.

I asked the new girl about her orange jersey but she wasn’t sure what I meant. She had decent English, but she didn’t know what I was asking. I pointed at the logo on her jersey and tried again, but to no avail. So I tracked down our wonderful translator, Jordan, to help me talk to her. Through Jordan she explained that she got the jersey from the team that she plays on. Unfortunately, that was all she could tell me about it.

Later I gathered several of the older boys that all had Project Hope jerseys. They were eager to talk to me once they heard I work for the NHL and they all wanted to shake my hand. Jordan helped me learn that the boys all play together on the Project Hope team which travelled last year to play games in North Korea and Russia and these boys will play in the Beacon Tournament in New York City in January. It will be their first time in North America.

I learned that most of them did not start playing hockey until age ten or even older. One of the boys is from a hockey family in Harbin. His dad played, and now he plays. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the hockey community in China, it may be small, but it’s tight knit. Everyone knows everyone else. The other boys in the group started because a friend told them about it. One boy, the tallest at the camp, was recruited by his friend’s parents just this year. I can’t believe he has only been playing for one year, his skills have progressed really fast.

They all said they started playing hockey because of the passion and intensity they saw in the sport and their goal is to someday play in the NHL.

That is a dream that is shared by the Islander’s owner, Charles B. Wang, and was part of the inspiration in founding Project Hope. According to Jin Yu Wang, the Chief Representative of Project Hope in China, Charles Wang was inspired by the rise of Yao Ming in the NBA and Wang hoped that someday a Chinese star could shine in the NHL in Ming-like fashion.

The Project Hope office here in Harbin gave our team of coaches a warm welcome and hosted us to a traditional Northern Chinese meal called hot pot. We all sat around a huge table covered in meats and veggies that we then dropped into a pot of boiling broth until it was cooked and ready to eat. At dinner, Mr. Wang thanked our team for investing in the local hockey community and he told us of the challenges they face in promoting hockey in China. The greatest challenge is one of resources, especially a lack of ice. As a solution, Mr. Wang hopes to incorporate more street hockey to help the kids improve their skills even when they don’t have access to ice.

At our camp this week we incorporated a portion of street hockey. At first the kids were unsure but as the week has gone on they’ve really jumped on board and are having a blast. The advantage of street hockey is that it helps give confidence to some kids that struggle in their skating skills.

Mr. Wang also talked about the tournaments that they take their kids to in China and abroad and of the new programs they are trying to start in other cities. He explained that over 1,200 kids are registered with Project Hope throughout all of China and a significant portion of players involved in the program have gone on to play in China’s national program. It’s obvious that the founding of Project Hope in 2005 was instrumental in boosting the growth of the sport here in China but hockey has a long way to go and there is so much potential for it to take off here.

HOCKEY IN CHINA BLOG

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