New This Season in a Canadian Hockey League: Road Trips to China

New This Season in a Canadian Hockey League: Road Trips to China


The success of the two Shenzhen teams, whose rosters include a few star imports and many of China’s top Olympic prospects, suggests that the country’s main hockey goal — medaling at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics — may not be unrealistic.

“I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility,” said Cara Morey, the coach of the Princeton University women’s team, which defeated China, 3-0, in an October exhibition game.

Sweden and Finland, the next tier of hockey powers behind the United States and Canada, should pay attention, Morey added, because “China is taking this very seriously.”

Kunlun Red Star was founded last year by Billy Ngok, the founder of China Environmental Energy Holdings, an energy trading firm based in Hong Kong. He said the club’s seven teams include two under-18 squads and a professional men’s team in Beijing that competes in the Kontinental Hockey League, which is based in Russia but includes teams in Belarus, China, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia.

Brenda Andress, the C.W.H.L. commissioner, said that the Chinese expansion teams were Kunlun’s idea and that she saw them as a vehicle for growing the game and creating employment for women. (The N.H.L. also sees China as a ripe market and held preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing last September.)

Photo

Fans watched a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game in Shenzhen, China, last month.

Credit
Billy H.C. Kwok for The New York Times

This season, the 11-year-old C.W.H.L. began paying players annual stipends of $2,000 to $10,000 based on a $100,000-per-team budget. Most of the players still work side jobs.

The foreign players in Shenzhen also are paid as “hockey ambassadors,” meaning they do not work other jobs and must devote significant time to promoting the sport in China and mentoring their Chinese teammates.

Ngok confirmed a recent report in China’s state-controlled news media that members of the men’s and women’s national hockey teams would earn monthly salaries of up to about 40,000 renminbi, or $6,047.

He said that the Chinese government had appointed Kunlun Red Star to manage the Olympic hockey program and that he would invest an annual $60 million in the seven teams over five years. That includes the full cost, he said, of having the C.W.H.L.’s five North American teams fly to Shenzhen once a season for a series of games, as Markham Thunder and the Toronto Furies did last month.

The Chinese teams go to North America twice to play 13 road games before ending the regular season in March with two games against each other in Marlborough, Mass.

“We have a dream, a Chinese dream, as our president says, for the women’s hockey team to win a medal in 2022,” Ngok said, riffing on one of President Xi Jinping’s favorite political slogans. He chose Shenzhen as a home base, he added, partly to support a government plan to develop winter sports in nontraditional regions.





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