By Kerry Gwydir
One dream ended on Sunday for two teams from China, but many more await the talented players and staff from Harbin and QiQiHar. And it turned out to be the Rangers -- no, not those guys from Manhattan -- but the ones from South Grenville, Ontario, who eliminated the QiQiHar Snow Leopards, 3-2, in the semifinal game of the Atom B Bell Capital Cup.
South Grenville advanced to the finals with a 5-on-3 powerplay goal with just 1:22 left in regulation off a rebound goal to pull out the hard-fought decision. It was the second of a pair of 5-on-3 tallies that QiQiHar allowed in the game. Earlier in the day, QiQiHar defeated their country-mates from Harbin in the quarterfinals for a 3-0 victory thus earning the Snow Leopards a spot in the semifinal.
This version of the Rangers who are a few feet shorter than the big-league version and reside just over the border from Ogdensburg, NY, fell behind early when QiQiHar's leading scorer Zhang Chang converted just moments into the game. But the Snow Leopards ran into penalty troubles two minutes later, and many times in the game, when they lost two players to penalties. That set up a 5-on-3 three, in which the Rangers scored on a point shot with eight minutes to go in the opener.
The Rangers continued to supply the pressure and nearly put home another man-up tally during the same advantage when they hit the cross-bar on a breakaway. A heads-up play by goaltender Liang Guizi to fall on the second chance behind him thwarted a sure-tap in for the Rangers.
A highlight reel rush by a Rangers' defenseman put the rivals up with two minutes to go in the opening stanza. The Rangers' player started the play at his own blueline by stickchecking Liu Peng at the Rangers' blueline. Then, he followed the play up by flying up the ice, dancing around the QiQiHar defense and then poking a shot under Liang Guizi to complete the impressive sequence.
Undaunted, QiQihar came right back to pressure the South Grenville defense. This time, it was left wing Zhang Yao testing the Rangers' keeper. His shot beat the netminder, but hit the crossbar and bounced wide.
Tensions heated up midway through the second when the Rangers' defenseman who made that second score took a late run at QiQiHar's goaltender after Liang Guizi made a huge stop. Three QiQiHar players actually expressed their displeasure of the treatment of their goaltender, as all quality teammates do in hockey. But, when the action returned to the skating aspect of the game, QiQiHar made the Rangers pay on the powerplay in the opening seconds of the third period.
That's when Zhang Cheng came to the rescue once again, this time roofing a pretty wrister under the crossbar to tie the hotly-contested match. It was his 11th goal of the tournament in just seven games. But in the end, Cheng couldn't find the equalizer as he buzzed around the Rangers' cage in the final moments in regulation.
After the game, the two teams spent Sunday evening being hosted by the Chinese embassy in Ottawa. They will then leave Monday morning for a bus ride to Long Island and the continuation of their North American trip.
In the end, the QiQiHar and Harbin teams, along with everyone who was involved with this venture - including the billet families, sponsors and staffers, came away winners - regardless of who winds up bringing home the gold medal in Ottawa.
* THE BATTLE OF CHINA I
* IT'S CHINA VS. CHINA
* CHINESE HOCKEY MEETS THE ISLANDERS
* MIKE'S MEMO: A Thrill Of a Lifetime
* BELL CAPITAL CUP TOURNAMENT DAY ONE
* THANK YOU, NIKE BAUER HOCKEY!
* A DREAM REALIZED
* THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME
* Chris Stevenson's column, "Milbury Puts Hockey on Map in China" from the Dec. 28 edition of the Ottawa Sun