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Goals in sight as China laces up its skates

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-30 07:14

Overseas moves

Despite hot participation at junior level, the lack of a domestic competition system to channel primary school tournaments toward collegiate and then professional leagues is taking its toll on enthusiasm.

Some talented children supported by wealthy families, such as China's first NHL draftee Song Andong, have to move overseas to strong hockey-playing countries such as the US and Canada to study and train in an overseas school system from the secondary education stage.

Song, a Beijing native who moved to Canada when he was 10 for hockey training, was picked by the New York Islanders in June 2015 to become the first Chinese drafted in the NHL.

The 21-year-old now studies at Cornell University while developing his game in the university's National Collegiate Athletic Association Division One program.

"The school system in North America made me the player I am today," said Song, who is expected to lead China's men's team at the 2022 Winter Olympics. "A similar ladder system involving kids from primary schools to colleges and then the pro leagues should be established back in China as soon as possible."

As the first step to building the highly anticipated system, the Chinese Ice Hockey Association plans to launch an eight-team professional league at the end of this year, said its chairman, Cao Weidong.

The new league will be based on players now registered with six provincial teams competing at the annual national championship and will be open to foreign players. Each club will have a limit on the number of foreign players it can field.

"It's urgent that our top players compete on a regular basis representing club teams rather than just gathering once a year at the championship tournament," Cao said.

Lacking a domestic league, China has a men's team, Kunlun Red Star, from Shanghai, which competes in the professional Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, plus two entries in the second-tier Russian league and a junior squad in the Russian development league.

In the women's game, Kunlun Red Star and Wanke Ryes from Shenzhen joined the Canadian Women's Hockey League last year, with Red Star finishing in second place in April in its debut season.

The Chinese Ice Hockey Association is also working with the Federation of University Sports of China, the sports affiliate of the Ministry of Education, to prepare for setting up China's collegiate ice hockey leagues once the adult professional league runs smoothly.

"Eventually, our goal is to put a system in place that will make a player's development path seamless as long as he or she is dedicated to becoming a pro," Cao said.

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