Friday September 16, 2016

Could China become a hockey powerhouse?

Boston Bruins forward Matt Beleskey poses with young hockey players in China. Beleskey was part of a tour to grow the game of hockey in the far east.

Boston Bruins forward Matt Beleskey poses with young hockey players in China. Beleskey was part of a tour to grow the game of hockey in the far east. (Boston Bruins)

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Queue the rise of the Red Dragon - in hockey.

As the World Cup of Hockey gets underway in Toronto, the usual suspects are fighting it out on the ice. Canada, the United States, Russia and Sweden are traditionally dominant teams.

But right now in China, hockey is quickly growing, with the goal of becoming a more powerful player on the world scene.

That's something Boston Bruins' left winger Matt Beleskey saw first hand. This summer he travelled to China to teach hockey skills as part of the Bruins' hockey camps. He explains how the opportunity arose to Day 6 host, Brent Bambury.

"The PR guy from our team, Eric Tosi, came up and asked 'would you and your wife be willing to travel to China to help spread the game and grow the game," says Beleskey.

"They were out there early, staying out late, just working hard, smiling, laughing with each other. I think that's what hockey's really about." - Matt Beleskey

Beleskey says he was surprised at how advanced the children were at playing hockey.

"Going over there I didn't really have an idea as to where their skill level was going to be at," he says. "It may be a little naive, but I thought I was going to be teaching more skating stride and everything, but the kids knew the fundamentals very well."

Training ethic

Beleskey was impressed with the players, as well as their coaches.

"They really are goal-oriented. They look at the fundamentals and the skill aspect quite in depth. So their room for improvement is learning the flow of the game, "says Beleskey. "Their hockey sense needs to improve a little bit."

The kids in the hockey camp were aged from six through eight, and Beleskey says they reminded him of himself at that age.

"They were out there early, staying out late, just working hard, smiling, laughing with each other. I think that's what hockey's really about."

Rock 'em, sock 'em

Beleskey doesn't speak Mandarin and so worked with a translator while teaching at the camp. But he says he was impressed with how much English the kids knew.

"I could tell when I was talking to them, they could pick up a lot of words. And some of them could actually speak good English back to me."

He says a lot of the kids asked about the height of his teammate, Zdeno Ch├íra, who stands at 2.06 m.

"I just said too big," laughs Beleskey. "He's huge."

Some things transcended the language barrier in China, particularly when Beleskey showed the kids cellphone videos of some of his NHL fights.

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Matt Beleskey and Andy Andreoff fight during a match between the Kings and the Bruins. Beleskey showed some fighting clips to young players in China. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

"They were kind of impressed and shocked that you're allowed to do that. I don't know it goes over in their culture, but I think anyone can pick up on that," he says with a chuckle. "To see their faces was pretty priceless."

The future of hockey in China

Beijing is hosting the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, and developing the country's hockey skills is part of their Games plan.

"You know, anytime China hosts an event they really want to do well in it, and I'm sure their training regimen will be stepping up in the future."