Gregory Shiu thought a hockey camp with Wayne Gretzky was going to be his highlight of the NHL's visit to China until a chance encounter with the Calgary Flames solidified his dream to be the first Chinese-born NHL player.
Shiu, 7, was so overwhelmed by the kindness of, "Captain Mark G, goalie Mike, Johnny Hockey, Curtis, Elias and Mr. Chuck who is (No.) 19 like me," he hand wrote a letter to the league to express how thankful he was to meet Flames Mark Giordano, Mike Smith, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.
Gregory attended a youth clinic with Gretzky and stayed in a hotel with his dad Jeffrey before attending the game between the Flames and Boston Bruins in Shenzhen the next day. They had no idea the Flames were staying in the same place until they saw them in the hotel restaurant.
Gregory was a little shy about approaching the players because he was wearing a Ducks shirt.
"Mark and Mike Smith both stood up and came over and shook Gregory's hand," Jeffrey said in an email. "Gregory was stone silent and stunned. We then took photos with both of them and thanked them repeatedly."
Gregory was especially taken with Lazar, who put down a plate a food to take a picture with him. In the elevator, he didn't realize Lindholm was a player when he asked if the Flames forward was going to the game. Lindholm calmed Gregory's slight embarrassment by chatting him up about the Ducks shirt he was wearing.
When he went back to school, Gregory shared his experience in his writing classes.
"During every writing workshop, I wrote how nice the Flames were." Gregory said in an email. "I wrote how I was sad the Flames lost. I wrote how I was excited to see the game and skate with Gretzky. I wrote about seeing Elias Lindholm in the elevator. I wrote about taking photos."
Gregory, who lives in Hong Kong, fell in love with hockey in 2017 when Jeffrey took him to a game in Anaheim. Gregory became an instant Anaheim Ducks fan and wanted to start playing hockey as soon as they got home. He went from barely being able to stand on skates to playing his first game in six months with the HK Junior Tigers youth league.
"He currently skates anywhere from 3-5 hours a week, takes lessons from two Canadian-born skaters, and is self-motivated and extremely passionate about hockey," Jeffrey said. "(He has) bed sheets, duvet cover, t-shirts, swimwear, school backpack -- all NHL. His dream in life is to be drafted in 2029."
And while he still loves the Ducks (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Cam Fowler, and Rickard Rakell are his favorites), he's got another team to root for after making some new friends from Calgary.
"I felt excited," Gregory said. "They were friendly. I was surprised they were so nice. Amazing feeling. They smiled at me and made me feel good."