One year and one day distinguished a pair of Long Island youth hockey teams on a trip around the world. The P.A.L. Junior Islander Bantams, born in 2001, arrived in Beijing 24 hours earlier than their 2002 Peewee counterparts. The senior group had already endured a 13.5 hour flight that arched over the North Pole and into a time zone where day is night and night is day. They’d reached their hotel beds by the time the younger sect was pulling out of the Nassau Coliseum parking lot towards JFK International Airport; it was 1 p.m. Saturday on Long Island, or 1 a.m. Sunday in China’s capital city.
As the airborne Peewees tired and sprawled across seats, guardians and each other, the Bantams arose to a foreign city that had been hidden by darkness and jet lag during the previous night’s transfer from Beijing airport to downtown’s Sun World Hotel. Sunday's tours through the Temple of Heaven, Capitol Museum and Olympic Center, paired with three authentic Chinese meals submerged the 13-year-old’s and their parents in China’s culture, where both groups were set to spend the next 12 days, first sightseeing and then playing in the 2014 International Youth Hockey Tournament.
Twelve teams from Russia, Qiqihar, Harbin, Beijing, and the United States will square off in China’s northern city of Harbin, where Islanders owner Charles Wang has helped fund ice rinks, youth hockey and educational programs since 2006 as part of his “Project Hope” initiative.
The dazed Peewees plodded into Sun World late Sunday night, but returned to the lobby just a few hours later, sacrificing sleep in favor of the trip’s most anticipated event. Monday morning the teams united for the first time on the eighth wonder of the world, the Great Wall of China.
“This is one of the most amazing experiences we can offer our Jr. Islanders. A lot of them already have international experience, since we take a team to the Quebec Peewee tournament every year, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for both the kids and their parents.” - Jocelyne Cummings
Twenty-six players and 35 parents hiked China’s most iconic landmark, as a trip that Islanders Manager of Amateur Hockey Development Jocelyne Cummings began planning a mere six months earlier came to fruition.
“This last January during our International Lighthouse Tournament I was on the glass watching the championship game, when Garth gave me the signal,” Cummings said.
A subtle nod from Islanders General Manager Garth Snow invited Cummings to view the action from his post, alongside Islanders Owner Charles Wang. The trio were overseeing their sixth annual Lighthouse Tournament at Nassau Coliseum, featuring teams from as far as Finland, Sweden, China and Japan.
Cummings continued, “During meetings earlier in the day, Chinese dignitaries invited the Jr. Islanders to represent the United States at an international tournament in China, so they asked me how we could make it happen.”
The Islanders had previously sent coaches to Harbin and Qiqihar to run clinics and camps, but this would be the Jr. Islanders’ first venture overseas. Cummings worked with personnel from hockey offices in Harbin to put together a 12-day itinerary, including three days in Beijing and a six-day tournament in Harbin. She formed two teams from the Jr. Islanders player pool, staffed the trip with coaches and coworkers and placed the order for a thick stack of plane tickets.
“This is one of the most amazing experiences we can offer our Jr. Islanders,” Cummings said. “A lot of them already have international experience, since we take a team to the Quebec Peewee tournament every year, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for both the kids and their parents.”
Adrenaline drove the Peewees up countless steps Monday as they raced towards a Chinese flag that marked the Great Wall’s highest accessible point. The Bantam’s posed for pictures, kicked around a hacky sack and demonstrated a newly acquired zeal for haggling on souvenirs, bottled water and anything else with a price tag. It was a skill they’d soon impart on the younger, more energetic team, along with a few Chinese words they’d picked up the previous day and tips on the top choices at the three daily family-style Chinese meals.
The groups shared one more day in Beijing on Tuesday, touring Tiananmen Square and the Summer Palace in a blistering heat that garnered even more anticipation for the following days practice in Harbin.
Now evenly acclimated to the food, culture and language, the two teams are primed to once again represent the New York Islanders in Harbin.