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Chinese goalie savoring opportunity of lifetime

21-year-old added to Canucks roster for 2017 China Games

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

SHANGHAI -- Goalie Zehao Sun was watching the Vancouver Canucks practice at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Tuesday from the bench, treating the session like a hockey tutorial.

He wore shorts and had on a sweatshirt with the words "Canucks Hockey." His smartphone was getting a healthy workout when he took selfies with his smiling teammates, including fellow goaltender Anders Nilsson.

Yes … his teammates.

Video: The Canucks sign Chinese goalie Zehao Sun to ATO

There are three goaltenders on the Canucks roster -- Jacob Markstrom, Nilsson and Sun -- for the 2017 China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging. The Canucks play preseason games against the Los Angeles Kings in Shanghai on Thursday (7:30 a.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) and Wukesong Arena in Beijing on Saturday (3:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

 

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Sun, 21, was signed to an amateur tryout contract by the Canucks on Monday. The Canucks want him to watch and learn and get on the ice here this week to work with goaltending coach Dan Cloutier. He has represented China at the international level, recently coming to the Canucks' attention via the recommendation of Barry Beck, the defenseman who played 10 seasons in the NHL.

Beck played for the Colorado Rockies in the 1970s, spent most of his NHL career with the New York Rangers and came out of retirement to finish his career in Los Angeles, playing 52 games with the Kings in 1989-90. He has been based in Hong Kong and runs the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey, and told Canucks executive Stan Smyl about Sun. Beck said Sun helped assist the academy when it held a youth tournament in Beijing, praising his work ethic and ability.

"I can't imagine being in his shoes," Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden said of Sun's excitement level.

Sun (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) started playing hockey at the age of 9 and decided to become a goaltender a year later.

"The reason why I became a goaltender is because I'm not afraid of the puck getting shot at me," Sun said Tuesday through an interpreter. "When I was very young, my coach asked me, 'You're not afraid of that?' I said, 'No, I can use my body to do that because I'm the last protection of the team.' I want to [make] a contribution to the team."

Sun said that he has learned a lot already from the Canucks because "it is a top team that is professional," and that he admires Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.

For the Canucks, the move to include Sun worked on multiple levels. The 2017 China Games are about promoting the sport, and Sun's addition to the roster for this week did that with national media on hand. It also helped the Canucks manage their roster more efficiently.

"We're kind of taking it day by day," Canucks coach Travis Green said. "We went back and forth with bringing a third goalie with us. It's a long way for someone to come and not play and only two practices. We'll probably get him on the ice tomorrow.

"I don't know a whole lot about him. But it's a great experience for him to be around an NHL hockey team to see how guys prepare. We'd like to get him on the ice a little bit, at least working with Dan Cloutier at some point. He seems like a fine young man."

Canucks forward Daniel Sedin said that Sun came to a team meeting Monday and introduced himself to the players.

"It's neat to get a chance to get to know him and learn more about hockey in this country," Sedin said.

Green was asked if Sun could possibly get in a game if he looked good in practice.

"No, he will not be playing in games," Green said. "This is an experience for him and, like I said, we contemplated bringing a third goalie over. Even if we brought a third goalie over, he was not going to play in games. We wanted our two regular goalies to play in the games. If someone got hurt, he would definitely back up."

Sun thanked Beck, and others, for helping him get the opportunity of a lifetime. He also recognized the larger implications of this week for his country.

"Now the good news is that NHL is coming to China already and bringing a very brilliant game to China, for the Chinese people to know the top players in the world," Sun said. "Also, it can help to increase the atmosphere in China, to help people know more about ice hockey."

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