Youth help to halt ice hockey's slide
Updated: 2015-05-04 10:00
By LEI LEI(China Daily)
Captain Sun Rui is embraced by one of her teammates after scoring during a game at the IIHF Women's World Championship Division I Group B in Beijing on April 6. The Chinese team lost to the Netherlands 3-2 after penalties. [Photo/China Daily]
Jia Dandan, the coach of the female youth team in Harbin, said the recruitment of youngsters to the two teams has been hampered by the lack of a professional league along the lines of the National Hockey League in North America, the limited allowances paid and the uncertain career prospects of a full-time ice hockey player.
"Nowadays, you can't just ask the younger generation to remain committed to a demanding sport just for the sake of their love of it without providing decent earnings," said Jia, Sun's former national teammate.
Jia's 20 players take part in three 90-minute training sessions every day, starting as early as 6 am, and are each paid just 2,000 yuan ($322) a month. They have to use old equipment passed on from the adult team.
Youth participation rises
In contrast to the sport's decline in its traditional home in the Northeast, its huge popularity among the children of well-off families in Beijing has become a phenomenon.
At the women's championship held at Beijing's Capital Indoor Gymnasium, a group of more than 100 children in full ice hockey outfits stole the limelight with their loud chants for the host team.
"I like playing ice hockey because it is fun and it looks so cool," 10-year-old Wen Bocheng said at China's final game against Slovakia.
Despite fatigue and the occasional bruise, Wen joins more than 20 other youngsters from Tsinghua University Primary School three times a week to train at the Dreamport Mall in north Beijing, and he also plays a full-contact game each week.
Wen Quan, his father, said, "In the beginning, we were kind of worried about the frequent body checks, but watching him working hard at something he loves at a young age, learning discipline and teamwork, there's really nothing you can do but support him."
Wen Bocheng and his hardworking schoolmates are among 2,000 children from 96 junior club teams registered with the Beijing Ice Hockey Association's Minor Hockey Premier League. They play through the winter and spring.
Thanks to Beijing's 2022 bid, more commercial rinks suitable for ice hockey training have opened to the public at affordable prices, while a growing number of families have adopted the sport.
"Given that students lack outdoor exercise in winter and are under intense pressure academically, it's a great boost to physical education on campus," said Huang Kan, commissioner of the Beijing Municipal Education Commission. "Playing team sports such as hockey will help build character and improve the students' physical health."
This new generation of ice hockey juniors supported by families rather than the State system is likely to make a difference in the near future, Sun Rui said.
"We would love to see more young players developing outside the State system. With so many families involved in the sport, we can expect a bright future," she said.
Thomas Wu, vice-president of the IIHF, has also taken notice of the sport's growing profile in the capital.
"I think in Beijing there is a decent level of competition both locally and for youngsters who go overseas to play," Wu said.
Sun Xiaochen contributed to this story.
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