For China's national hockey program, the road to the 2022 Winter Olympics starts on Long Island.
The Beijing Hockey Association has teamed up with the New York Islanders in an effort to develop the country's national program, with a goal of icing a Chinese team in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
How are they doing it? A group of junior players from Beijing are spending eight months under the tutelage of Islanders Skills Development Coach Bernie Cassell and Jr. Islanders coaches Eric Conway and Rudy Sulmonte.
These players are making a full commitment to their hockey careers, uprooting themselves from home for the entire season. They'll practice four times per week, work out off the ice three times per week and play 44 games in the USPHL (United States Premier Hockey League) at the Elite Level.
"They pay attention, they're hungry, they want to get better," Cassell said. "Since they got here, since I've been working with them for two weeks I've seen a huge improvement and the reason is that they listen, they pay attention and they are open to new things and they apply it right away."
The Beijing team will practice and play at Northwell Health Ice Center - the Islanders' official practice facility - giving the junior players access to a state-of-the-art facility. They are currently 0-1-0 following a loss to the P.A.L Junior Islanders. Their first home game is on Friday, October 7 at Northwell.
This unique partnership is a continuation of the Islanders work to grow the game of hockey in China. The Islanders first opened an Islanders hockey office in Harbin, China in 2005, have welcomed numerus Chinese teams to the Lighthouse International Hockey Tournament - five players on Team Beijing played in the pee-wee tourney - and have taken the Jr. Islanders to compete in the Project Hope Tournament twice.
The team is still committed to growing the game abroad, but now they're just using the NHL-quality resources available at home.
Stay up-to-day on Team Beijing's progress all season on nhl.com/islanders. Check out Beijing's schedule here. < Link to schedule>