‘A big task’: China’s Olympic hockey team facing questions

For the first time since the NHL began sending players to the Olympics in 1998, there were concerns that the host nation would not be able to score in the biggest sporting event in the world, let alone winning a game.

China’s men’s team is ranked 32nd in the world and is in a group with the United States and Canada, the two medal favorites among the 12 teams going to the Winter Games in February. A team made up of potential Chinese national team players has so far struggled against other competition, fearing it will be blown up from its own buildings on home ice in Beijing.

All of this has led to what the new International Ice Hockey Federation president Luke Tardiff calls a “test” next week near Moscow, and it is certainly unusual: two games as the Beijing-based KHL team Kunlun Red Star against China-Russian opponents. Will play The IIHF and Chinese hockey officials will be watching closely in person and online, and hope the team won’t be embarrassed against an NHL competition in February.

“The team we have in front of us, in two games, we’ll just look at the scores and the way the game was playing, we’ll know quickly whether they have level or not,” Tariff told the Associated Press. In a recent interview. “It would be not only the score but the way the game was played.”

It is unclear how – or who – will grade this test. The IIHF said last week that it would not remove China from the tournament – it does not have the unilateral authority to do so – and it would be up to the Chinese government to pull the plug.

This would be a disgraceful move: according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon, a host nation’s team has never been withdrawn from the modern Olympics simply for performance-related reasons.

There is good reason to consider this: Kunlun, which has been used as a proxy for the Chinese national team to gain experience in a professional league, has lost 20 of its 26 KHL games this season. And got out 96-57. is in process.

Tariff said there were no such concerns about China’s women’s team, which is ranked 20th and in the less-toughly competitive Olympic group.

The dismal performance of the Chinese men’s team so far is not due to a lack of effort, although the work clearly did not bear fruit. The Chinese Ice Hockey Association has failed in its attempt to develop a domestic roster over the years, so the team’s top players are North Americans – some with family ties to the country and others who have been asked to join Kunlun and gain international approval. The latter is made natural. Play for China.

Leading scorers Spencer Foo and Brandon Yip and top defenseman Ryan Sproul are Canadian and opening goalkeeper Jeremy Smith is American, although there is still some uncertainty about who will go to Beijing. The IIHF would not confirm which players were eligible on Kunlun’s roster.

Stocking Olympic rosters with international players is not uncommon, certainly not so much since the host nation began getting an automatic berth in hockey tournaments in 2006. That year Italy had nine Canadians and two Americans, and in 2018 South Korea had six Canadians and one American. Neither team won a game.

Yip, the most accomplished player ever for China with 174 games of NHL experience, hopes to spend many years playing together and employing a strict defensive plan to put his team in a tough Olympic group including Canada, the United States and Germany. Might help hang with.

“Obviously when you look at our teams on paper, it’s a huge discrepancy,” said Yip, 36, from British Columbia, who has played for Kunlun since 2017. “We clearly know what we’re up against. They’re the best players in the world, so we have a big job ahead of us.”

what a big job

Longmou Li, a longtime Chinese broadcaster who is VP of communications for Kunlun, said the US and Canada would beat China 8–0 or 10–0, and noted that the focus was on the third game against Germany. has been done. Asked if that would be considered a success, Lee said: “Have a goal and a better performance. Not a disaster.”

China has suffered painful sporting defeats in the past, namely in football when it did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup and the sacking of its manager after a victory on home soil at the 2008 Olympics. Susan Brownell, professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Chinese sports experts believe that this time the poor result may have led to an oversight of hockey by the premier level of government.

“If I were a hockey administrator, I would be shaken in my shoes,” said Brownell, who cites the failure of China’s hockey academy program as a major cause of the current puzzle. “The criticism is really that you invest all this money and you can’t produce results.”

Like in other sports, China brought in international coaches to help: Stanley Cup winner Mike Keenan was fired in 2017 after just 36 games behind the bench with Kunlun, and Bobby Carpenter, Kurt Fraser and Bobby Carpenter, Kurt Fraser and Alexey passed by Kovalev. Italian-Canadian Ivano Zanata for an Olympic job.

“There is generally no question of resources and money in China,” says Li Li Jie, a Chinese citizen and professor of kinesiology who brings Chinese athletes and coaches to study at the University of Minnesota. “If they want to make something, they are willing to invest an unlimited amount of money.”

Time was not on China’s side. Li pointed out that it took Switzerland decades to reach the top level of international hockey, and did China’s efforts in high gear only after it was awarded the 2022 Olympics in the summer of 2015.

The result may have been similar to that of men’s basketball, in which China lost 108–57 to an American team made up of college all-stars in the ’88 Games. Still, it garnered the nation’s praise for the best of that sport, and four years later the NBA-stacked Dream Team saw the competition garner world acclaim.

“It’s going to be six dream teams – hockey teams – that play in the Olympics in front of Chinese fans,” Li said. “If Team China can be the host and nobody cares about the score, then everybody[is]going to know that hockey is the best game in the world and they’ll let the kids play and they’re going to pay money playing the game.” To see. It’s best for hockey.”

Still, there are potentially unwanted optics that come with the prospect of Canada and the US pulling out of their gleaming territory of China, while relations between those countries are colder than ice. And with a Chinese team full of foreigners there is a potential setback for home fans.

Brownell, an American who represented Beijing University in collegiate track and field in the 1980s, said the Chinese would take it as an honor if foreigners performed well. If they don’t, it can become a source of parody.

As one of the players who chose to play for China, Yip is trying to see the bigger picture. Beyond some anticipated losses in February, he wants to set the stage for a brighter future.

“If I’m sitting on the couch 20 years from now and I flip on the TV and you see a Chinese national player being drafted into the first round or the Chinese men’s hockey team at the Olympics, and they’re among those players. Let’s interview one of them: ‘Why did you come to hockey?’ And he said, ‘I saw the Chinese national team in Beijing in 2022 and it inspired me’ – that’s exactly what success is determined by this whole experience,” Yip said.

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AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth contributed.

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Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter https://twitter.com/SHowno

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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