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by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
The Chinese Pee Wee Champions receive a warm welcome from the Islanders

After a long day's flight, the QiQihar Leopards hockey team from the Chinese province of Hei Longjinge was excited to land at JFK Airport Tuesday afternoon.

Dressed in matching orange and yellow jumpers with Project Hope and Islanders logos on the front and "China" printed on the back, the youngsters arrived in New York at 1:30 to an Islanders welcoming crew at the airport. The team from QiQihar won the right to compete in the Charles B. Wang Project Hope tournament by winning an eight-team competition in China. QiQihar will play against teams from Long Island, Westchester and Bridgeport in the tournament held on Long Island this week.

From there, the Chinese kids were taken to the Marriott hotel, where Senior Vice President of Sports Properties Mike Milbury greeted the kids. Through an interpreter, Milbury told the children and Chinese officials how honored it was to have the team from QiQihar here on Long Island, and wished them all good luck.

The kids might have been a little drained after the long flight, but Sparky was there to brighten their spirits. Still basking in the holiday spirit, Sparky distributed Santa hats to the kids.

When the team learned they would be going to the Islanders-Rangers game tonight, they were overjoyed. The kids expressed their excitement at such an exciting NHL rivalry game.

"I'm really excited to see the NHL players," said 11 year old Qi Peng Fei through an interpreter. "This is my first time in America, and people have told be how good the trip was last year. I'm excited about playing in the competition."

With new-found energy after dinner, the QiQihar kids walked across to the Nassau Coliseum to watch the exciting matchup between the Islanders and Rangers. Between the first and second periods, general manager Garth Snow paid a visit to their luxury suite to greet the kids and some of the adults accompanying the kids.

Joining the children are a number of government and school officials as well as their coaching staff, led by Dai Li Ping.

On Wednesday, the QiQihar kids will travel to New York City for some sightseeing before starting the tournament on Thursday at Islanders Iceworks. will have daily updates from the Charles B. Wang Project Hope Invitational.

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