Before competing in the first annual Charles B. Wang Project Hope tournament, the Qiqihar Leopards youth hockey team had a day of sightseeing in New York City.
For some of the kids, it was the first time traveling to a large city, and from the moment they saw the giant skyscrapers, they were wide-eyed and pointing at sight after sight. Stop one on the fun-filled tour was Bryant Park, right in the heart of Manhattan, on Fifth Avenue and 41st Street.
In the winter, the park is flooded and turned into an outdoor ice-skating rink. The children certainly had fun chasing around the Islanders representatives, including Director of Project Hope Angela Ruggiero, who organized the day's events.
After nearly two hours of skating, it was time for lunch. But before the group of more than 50 people made its way to the restaurant, they stopped at Rockefeller Center to see the gigantic Christmas tree. The kids were amazed at the size of the tree that stands more than 75 feet tall.
Wearing their orange and yellow jump suits, the Qiqihar kids passed through the crowds of people, who stopped to ask what the group was here for. When they heard it was a hockey team from China, many of the passers-by stopped to take pictures with them. The Qiqihar players became instant stars.
From Rockefeller Center, the group made its way across to Broadway. The destination: Mars 2112, a futuristic restaurant that at times seemed more like an amusement park. Dressed in futuristic space costumes, the waiters served the Islanders guests.
To the children's delight, people dressed in alien costumes visited the tables throughout the meal. The lunch experience more than satisfied the hungry travelers.
After lunch, it was off to New York's tallest building, the Empire State Building. With the help of some inside connections, the wait in line went from two hours to ten minutes. Once on the 86th floor, the kids were treated to the best view in New York City. The sky was clear as structures could be seen miles away. Some even thought they saw the Nassau Coliseum 30 miles away.
The young players did see the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Building and off in the distance, the Statue of Liberty. Central Park could be seen in its entirety from atop the Empire State Building, which was completed in 1931.
The next couple of hours were free time for the kids, who scattered in groups throughout the Times Square-Rockefeller Center area. Some kids traveled to Madison Square Garden and others to the ESPN Zone in Times Square.
This was a good opportunity for the kids and the Islanders employees to exchange language lessons. The kids learned such words as "Macy's" and "Dunkin' Donuts, while the Islanders employees learned to say "thank you" and "you're welcome," as well as how to count up to ten in Mandarin.
By the end of the day, the kids were exhausted, but excited by all of the gifts they had purchased and the sights they saw.
"I had a lot of fun today," said Han Wang, who visited New York for the first time. "I liked all the places we went and look forward to playing in the competition tomorrow."
Qiqihar takes on the Long Island Icecats, Thursday at 9 am at Islanders Iceworks. Immediately following their game, teams from Bridgeport and Westchester play against one another.
Following the Islanders practice, the kids go back at it in the second round of the round-robin tournament. The Icecats take on Bridgeport at 1:30 pm and at 3:00 Qiqihar will play Westchester.
"The kids had a blast today going to Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park and the Empire State Building," said Ruggiero. "It was the chance of a lifetime for them. Project Hope is a great opportunity to use hockey as a means to bring cultures together. We saw that today when people on the street were trying to communicate with the kids through hand gestures, and we'll see it again tomorrow when the local kids interact with the kids from Qiqihar."
Newyorkislanders.com will have daily updates from the Charles B. Wang Project Hope Invitational.
* QiQiHAR YOUTH TEAM ARRIVES!