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A name change may be the catalyst that lifts Chinese ice hockey into the Olympic frame by 2022.

The Chinese government wants to lift the popularity and standard of its snow and ice sports as part of its bid to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in seven years.

Chengde city is aiding this plan by financially sponsoring an ice hockey club that is based in Beijing. The team was formed seven years ago and was first known as the Hotai club.

“They changed their name two years ago because the Chengde city government is their financial sponsor,” Junfeng Ji, the team leader of the Chinese under-20 national team at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III in New Zealand, said. “The club is still known as the Hotai Club but their top teams are called Chengde because that city supports them.”

Most of the players are not local and came originally from the cities of Harbin and Qiqihar in the country’s north, places that are both more well-known as hockey hotbeds in comparison to Chengde. Chengde city is 400 kilometres away from Beijing and most of the players live and train in the Chinese capital.

Defender Jiasiteng Wu (19), a professional hockey player, is one of the 13 Chengde players who made it to the final 20-man roster for the event in Dunedin. He lives in Harbin and is making his first visit to New Zealand.

“I like the ice at the Dunedin Ice Stadium but the light inside is a bit on the dark inside,” he said when comparing to China.

There were three big ice hockey clubs in China when the Hotai club was formed seven years ago and the situation remains the same.

“But Chengde has lifted the hockey skills and standard of the Chinese national league,” Ji said.

Chengde is coached by Russian Oleg Gorbenko, who is also the coach of the under-20 team in Dunedin. He also coached the under-18 team last year. Gorbenko has tried to impart Russian skills to the Chengde team and this has been reflected in the growing strength of Chinese hockey.

He has brought a European style to the game and the Chinese team has impressed this week with its skating skills and speed on the ice. After three wins against Mexico (6-1), Turkey (6-1) and South Africa (13-0), China has remained the only undefeated team. Only New Zealand, which will face China on Sunday, remains in contention for the tournament win.

Chengde’s target is to have a professional team in the Asia League with clubs from China, Japan and Korea. Since the name change the Chengde team has dominated the Chinese under-20 league and has won the competition for the last two years. This has been reflected in the dominance of Chengde players in the under-20 team.

“They are the champions in the under-20 league. They are in first place. They are strong and that is why we selected them,” Ji said.

Beijing has made a bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The other bidding city is Almaty, Kazakhstan. If China is successful when the IOC decides in July, Beijing will be the host city for the Olympics and will stage the ice sports.

“The snow events will be at another area,” Ji said. “It will be good for us and it will promote ice sports in China. It will be a big promotion for winter events.”

Chengde is a winter resort city and the plan is to hold the Olympic snow events in the same province, Hebei. The decision on the Olympic venue will be made by the International Olympic Committee at its meeting in Malaysia in July.

“I’m confident that China will win,” Ji said.

The Chinese senior men’s team first played in the World Championship program in 1972 when it finished third in the C-Pool and was ranked 18th overall. Its best result was 10 years later in 1982 when it finished 15th. It has played in 320 international matches and has won 114, lost 180 and tied 26.

It lost to Romania 6-4 in its first international game in 1972 and has had fluctuating fortunes ever since. Its biggest win was the 35-0 drubbing of Kuwait in 1999 and its biggest loss was to Norway, 25-1 in 2005.

Today China is ranked 38th in the world and would need big improvement to be ready to compete with the top nations.

“The ranking of our men’s team is too low to make the Olympics at the moment,” Ji said. “I’m not sure if our team will be able to get up because our level is too low. We must improve a lot in the next seven years to get there. There is still a long way to go.”

China will make a significant step toward its Olympic goal if the under-20 team wins the Division III in Dunedin and gets promoted to the second division for next year’s championships. China finished last in 2014 and was demoted.

“Last year we didn’t play very well,” Ji said. “We hope to win this tournament and get back into the second division. It is very important for us and it is our goal for this tournament in Dunedin.”

The chances of China moving up the ranking list are promising because it has been the dominant team at this week’s championship. Russian coach Oleg Gorbenko puts emphasis on speed on the ice and a quicker and more innovative passing game.

“They have improved a lot from last year with their faster skating, passing and more aggressive play,” Ji said.

One of the weak points this week has been the ability to turn enough scoring opportunities into goals. “We need to improve the shooting,” Ji said.

The top players in this team may form the nucleus of the Chinese senior men’s team if it qualifies for the 2022 Olympics.

Four players – Hang Li, Qing Liu, Xudong Xiang and Ziyang Zhu – are already members of the Chinese senior team.

Zhu (18) like some other Chengde players is a student at the Harbin Institute of Physical Education that partners with the Chinese Ice Hockey Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Asian Office.The hockey students in Harbin also get Bauer-sponsored winter jackets, track-suits, T-shirts and polo shirts.

“I specialize in ice hockey and spend most of my hours with the sport,” he said.

He already was a member of the Chinese under-20 team that finished runner-up to Iceland when the Division III was held in Dunedin three years ago. The Chinese Ice Hockey Association has combined with the IIHF Asian Office to introduce education for coaches and officials according to the IIHF development programs.

“The Harbin project was a Chinese initiative to get one million people skating on the ice or skiing on the snow,” Ji said. “We want more people to try the winter sports.”

The development programs are part of the special Asia 2022 long-term development project that started in November 2011 as part of the IIHF National Association Assistance Program.

The goal is to provide members of the Asian Strategic Planning Group with the necessary education for leadership.

A benefit of the program means that for the first time in the history of the Winter University Games it is now possible for China to attend with men’s and women’s teams next month in Granada, Spain. 


Share: http://www.nationalteamsoficehockey.com/women.html/Chengde-is-giving-big-boost-to-Chinese-ice-hockey-By-Alistair-McMurran-IIHF-com-01-23-2015/Blog430


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