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Shanghai Hockey Club celebrating 2017 China Games

Members excited about NHL's first visit to country for Canucks-Kings preseason game

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

In a country of 1.3 billion people, the 150 or so members of the Shanghai Hockey Club don't exactly stand out in a crowd. 

But when the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks take the ice at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Thursday (7:30 a.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) in the first game of the two-game 2017 China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging, they will make their presence felt. 

For the members of the SHC, mostly expats from hockey-playing countries across the globe, the arrival of NHL hockey -- even the preseason version -- is just another reason to celebrate with the game they love.

 

[RELATED: Kings, Canucks set for 2017 China Games | Kings ready for 'cool experience' at 2017 China Games]

 

"The guys in Shanghai are pretty excited about this," said Brian Ohlrich, a former executive member of the SHC who has relocated back to the United States. "They have been talking about it since the first whisper of these games happened. It has been all over our social media since April or May."

The Kings and Canucks each arrived Monday for a week-long stay of games, clinics and cultural excursions. They will play the first game in Shanghai on Thursday. The second game is at Wukesong Arena in Beijing on Saturday (3:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports).

Jim Scotti, the treasurer of the league, says virtually every one of its members will be at the game Thursday. Ice time is often at a premium in Shanghai, yet the sheet the league has reserved for its members is going unused because everyone will be at the game.

And, the group will, by all accounts, have a heck of a time.

Because aside from playing hockey, the SHC is a group that excels at having fun, whether it be the draft party that kicks off their season each fall or the Christmas party that brings players and their families together or any of the other social events they organize.

The league is made up of two divisions, a competitive A division and a recreational B division, each of which has five teams. Ages range from 16 to 65. Skill level spans former Junior players all the way down to ankle-bending beginners. The winter season is from October until May, including playoffs. Games are Friday and Sunday nights. There is also a smaller summer league.

Yet everyone gets something from the league, be it exercise, camaraderie or networking contacts.

"I have to believe the Shanghai Hockey Club is the best beer league hockey club that there is anywhere in the world," said Ohlrich, 54. "There's no comparison to what anybody does at home."   

The draft alone is enough to hook people. It is a gala event, often staged in banquet rooms of the city hotels with an emcee and a draft board. The league goes all out and it is a night not soon forgotten. 

Ohlrich's introduction to the club is like so many others, past and present. He arrived in Shanghai as part of his work, a stranger in a strange land looking for the familiar. He hadn't played hockey since high school, but saw an ad in an English-language publication and jumped at the opportunity to get a bit of exercise and rekindle his love for the game.

It provided so much more. The SHC became his social network. Each year he found himself surrounded by new teammates because of the annual draft the club employs instead of keeping teams together season after season.  

He bonded with other expats, players from Canada, the United States and throughout Europe, and made friends with the local Chinese players learning the game. Along the way, he widened his list of business contacts and adopted a new family.

These stories are legion in the club.

Barry Roe, 33, has been in Shanghai for three years. He joined the club almost immediately. But for him, playing hockey in new places wasn't new. He had been playing in Shenzhen, another Chinese city, before arriving in Shanghai. Before that, he played in Mexico City. It's been quite the hockey journey for a player who thought his playing days ended after a high school career in New Hampshire. 

Now Roe coaches youth hockey at the Feiyang Skating Center, the home rink for the SHC. He will help out at the youth clinics the Kings will host Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the community outreach. 

"I love the game, I love playing, and I love being able to regroup with a bunch of like-minded people from all over the world," Roe said. "We're there as hockey players playing for the common cause of hockey because we all love it. That's what is great about it." 

Corey Sorrento grew up playing hockey in Sacramento, California, reaching the AAA level at one point. He joined the SHC in 2006, two years after it was founded. 

At the time, the club had one division and four teams. He was the captain of one of the teams, the Fog Devils, for nine straight seasons.

"I tried to build a culture around my team," Sorrento said. "We played hockey, but we also made sure we had fun."

Mark Andrews, from Ottawa, is an original member who played during the club's first four years. He arrived to the city in 1997, parlaying a round-trip airfare to anywhere given to him by his grandmother into a life-changing journey to mainland China. He taught English in Beijing and through the countryside before arriving in Shanghai in 1999.

One day in 2004, Andrews was wearing a Hockey Canada jersey and he ran into a Swiss hockey fan. The Swiss fan said he and his buddies played at a rink that was built over a pool. Andrews showed up the next day.

"When I saw the ice, I was so taken aback; it was almost an emotional experience," Andrews said. "We played a game of shinny. It was a hodgepodge of expats. After the game, there was a restaurant nearby and we would get these big bottles of beer and sit and talk for two hours, and that kind of set the stage for what was to come."

Soon after that, the club was formed. Since then, the league, which remains an all-volunteer endeavor, has grown exponentially. But at its core, it remains a social outlet for its members, an opportunity to bond over a love of hockey, over a familiar touchstone in an unfamiliar land.

"We have always made sure it was about the good times and made sure it never got too competitive," Andrews said.

They will get together again en masse Thursday to show Shanghai just how special their club is. According to Scotti, many members have bought tickets to the game as individuals or small groups, so it is likely there will be small pockets of SHC members scattered throughout the arena.

But that likely won't last long.

"I'm sure we'll all find each other and end up together," he said.

That's a pretty safe bet judging by the history of the Shanghai Hockey Club.

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