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First Chinese player to be drafted chosen by Islanders

by Adam Kimelman

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Andong Song became the first Chinese-born player to be selected in the NHL Draft when the New York Islanders chose him Saturday in the sixth round (No. 172).

The 6-foot, 161-pound defenseman, who plays at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, had three goals and seven assists in 26 games. He said he patterns his game after former Detroit Red Wings star Nicklas Lidstrom.

Lawrenceville coach Etienne Bilodeau said Song stepped into a major role not long after arriving at the school and was named captain this season.

"Given the composition of our team this year, in a lot of ways he can relate to how many minutes Duncan Keith logged during the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs," Bilodeau said. "He was pretty much on a similar ratio minute-wise for our squad. He was our go-to guy at the blue line. ... His game is steady. He has good edge work, handles the puck well and really is very well-positioned all the time in the context of anticipating and knowing how to support the offense and knowing how to take care of his end and to be very reliable on both sides of the puck."

More important than Song's statistics is the significance of his birthplace: Beijing.

"I am the first," he said. "Hopefully what I want to do is rally people behind me. Not focus on myself but do something good for Chinese hockey."

Longmou Li of Chinese television station CCTV was part of a camera crew that's been following Song for three years. He said there was a lot of anticipation in China to see when Song would be picked.

"We didn't go live for the first round but we're live for the second round," Li said. "And on a Saturday night at 10 p.m., I heard it reached 2.5 million people waiting for his news."

Song said having the camera crew recording his every move already has him feeling like a star, but said he didn't mind the pressure.

"To be the first Chinese player, it's a lot of pressure from people back home," he said. "Good pressure. That'll motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I'll make them proud."

Song came to hockey almost by accident.

"When I was 6 years old I kept getting sick as a child and my mom tried finding a sport for me and hockey came up," Song said. "I tried it out and fell in love with it."

Song said finding places to play hockey in Beijing required some improvisation. There were two ice rinks, but neither was close to NHL size. At times, he had to practice on a speed skating oval.

"There was a big loop and the section in the middle would be all concrete," Song said. "We used to section off part of the track, put a net in there and start shooting pucks around. We had to improvise a lot growing up."

Song also was on a team that took part in a Charles B. Wang Ice Hockey Project Hope tournament. Wang, the owner of the Islanders, sponsored a youth hockey team from Nassau County on Long Island that traveled to China for the tournament.

"My [Chinese] team, the Cubs, we used to play them a lot," Song said. "That was the first site of youth hockey in China for our generation."

He graduated this year, and next season will play at Philips Academy in Andover, Mass., another top prep school, as a post-graduate. He said he'll use the 2015-16 season to try to earn a spot with an NCAA team.

Song also will continue to play internationally. He's played the past two years for China at the IIHF Division II-B World Under-18 Championship. Song served as the captain of the team at the tournament this year, in Novi Sad, Serbia, and had two assists in five games. China won one of its five games and finished fifth in a six-team tournament that included host Serbia, Romania, Spain, Belgium and Australia.

China isn't close to being ready to challenge the traditional international hockey powers, but Song said he's noticed the level of play growing rapidly.

"When I started playing there weren't a lot of people there," he said. "There wasn't much support for the game. Last year when I went back, it had been eight years since I'd seen Chinese hockey and it was tremendous how far it's grown. I'm sure they'll keep trying to catch up to Europe and North America and Russia. There's still a gap between them, but I'm sure if we focus on hockey we can catch up."

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