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Hockey in China Blog: Thank You, Teacher

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.

The kids gave me a Chinese nickname today. Instead of calling me “Deborah” they have dubbed me “Deb-Oooo.” This came as a result of our dryland practice this morning without a translator. I was attempting to learn the kid’s names, but when they tell me their names I usually don’t catch it the first time and even if I do I totally butcher the pronunciation. Luckily, there are two kids in my group with English names (English names with a Chinese pronunciation I should add), so I remember those ones at least. I really love it when the kids try to speak English with us. At the end of each activity they typically gather around us and say, “Thank you, teacher” with a bow. Learning English is an important part of the education system here, so the kids and their parents are eager to practice their English with native English speakers.

The ice times are going well. We have two different age groups at the camp and each group gets two sessions of ice per day, which for Harbin is a lot of ice time considering there is only one sheet of indoor ice in the entire city and it’s split between the National Teams, the five local hockey clubs and the figure skating club. In light of this, we’ve been trying to maximize each ice session, splitting the time between power skating and skills. I’m helping to lead the younger kids. They did awesome at learning quick starts, but kind of struggled with strides. Part of this is because of their equipment. Most of the gear looks like it is second hand (some of it’s not even hockey gear) and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a real skate sharpener in the city. But the kids give it their best effort regardless of their equipment.

Word apparently got around that we brought a goalie coach from Canada because we’ve been flooded with young goalies at each ice-time and the number jumped from seven to ten goalies after the first ice time. Our goalie coach, Hannah Goosen, is doing her best to improvise and accommodate such a large number of goalies with so few translators to help on the ice. The goalies are so eager to learn that they stay on the ice for all four of the ice times each day. Yesterday, as we were getting off the ice, I overheard one of the goalies asking via our translator if there is any special off-ice training for goalies so that he can improve even more. I love that passion. Even though our coaching team is exhausted and jet-lagged we’re all so encouraged to see how much the kids are learning and improving.

One interesting thing about Harbin is that we are literally the only Westerners I’ve seen the entire time we’ve been here. It’s not really a tourist city, especially at this time of year, so it’s kind of funny how much attention we attract as we walk around the city – but everyone is extremely welcoming and friendly and the hospitality of our hosts has been really impressive. For instance, one of our Chinese coaches, Jason from Beijing, was showing us his favorite Team Canada jersey and then he handed it to me and explained that he wanted me to keep it! I was so touched by the gesture.

Any fatigue we’ve been feeling was completely erased when some members of the local hockey community expressed to us how grateful they are that we are here investing in the kids of Harbin. I’m really dreading the end of our camp but I still have a few days left and many more adventures to blog about here.

I was able to interview several boys who play with the Project Hope team this afternoon and their stories will be included in my next post.

HOCKEY IN CHINA BLOG

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