When you think “ice hockey,” the first country that comes to mind is Canada, where it enjoys a fervent following as the official winter sport. Hockey is also a national obsession in other northern countries like Finland, Sweden, and Russia, all of which consistently produce top-notch Winter Olympics teams.
It was European immigrants who first brought hockey-like games to North America, where the sport was adapted for the continent’s icy winter conditions and eventually evolved into its modern form. Ice hockey in the mid-1800s was often played on frozen rivers, lakes or ponds, with players improvising protective gear by strapping cheese cutters onto their boots.
China has not traditionally been a contender in what has been nicknamed “the fastest game on earth.” However, the sport is gaining traction in Beijing thanks to a combination of expat initiative and growing interest from local kids.
Ice hockey is played by two opposing teams that must outdo each other by scoring goals. A goal is made when a player successfully shoots the “puck” (a hard rubber disc) into the other team’s net. Each team has six players: one goaltender and five “skaters.” The “skaters” can go anywhere on the ice, attacking or defending in turn as the players make their way towards a goal. The puck can be handled with the hockey stick or the players’ feet, but picking it up with the hands is not allowed. A player can use their shoulders, hip, or torso to hit or block opponents who are in possession of the puck.
Because full body contact is allowed, ice hockey is often seen as a rough sport. However, young players are taught legal moves to avoid incurring penalties during the game. Given the speed of the game, it is essential that children learn not only the required physical skills but also how to make split-second decisions on the ice.
Ice hockey is a great way for kids to keep physically and mentally fit while also picking up social skills. It is a demanding game that requires a great deal of coordination, flexibility, balance, and speed. Beginners can expect some spills until they get used to the game’s rapid pace. Aside from being fun, ice hockey helps develop key arm and leg muscles, improves agility and coordination, boosts focus, develops flexibility, and sharpens reflexes.
Two clubs in Beijing – Beijing International Ice Hockey League and Beijing Imperial Guard Ice Hockey Club – have kept their passion for the sport alive by playing regularly in tournaments, taking the players to locales ranging from Houhai Lake to Mongolia. They also regularly participate in competitions across Asia. These clubs train kids Hokay Arena in Gaobeidian in the basics of the sport and give them a chance to play regularly together.
Beijing International Ice Hockey
Established in 1995, Beijing International Ice Hockey is a recreational league that aims to not only provide an environment for playing the sport but also to promote a sense of community for experienced and new players alike.
For two years, the club has offered a Learn to Play Hockey program for children of club members and new players aged 3 to 13. Even the littlest players come to the rink all decked out in hockey gear, learn to navigate around the ice, and manipulate the puck with a hockey stick. Adult volunteers teach the kids how to have fun on skates.
Starting from age 6, the children work with two coaches. In the first part of the class, they learn on-the-ice skills such as skating and maneuvering around obstacles. The second part of the class involves a friendly scrimmage where they learn the rules of the game and practice handling the puck.
The emphasis is on fun, says Curtis Dracz, the commissioner of Beijing International Ice Hockey and a Learn to Play Hockey coach. Aside from learning the skills required to play the game, children are drilled in the importance of sportsmanship, friendship, teamwork, and – most importantly – the club’s no-hitting policy. It is precisely this non-competitive atmosphere that has attracted many children and their approving parents to the club.
Angela is a so-called “hockey mom.” Her three sons are all part of the Learn to Play Hockey program. The two older boys, Thomas (age 9) and William (12), now play on the same team and their teamwork has extended to their lives off the ice as well. Youngest brother Jacob (7) is now also learning the game and, according to Angela, is eager to catch up to his older siblings.
Liam and Gunner, both 7, are two other young hockey players who look forward to training day with their coaches. On his first day, Liam took several spills and his mom Erin recalls thinking that he would not want to come back. Gunner used to play hockey with another club in Beijing, but his family pulled him out because there was too much of a focus on competition. His mom, Kate, did not want Gunner to learn hockey in an environment where getting ahead at all costs was the goal. Now, he is able to learn the sport while enjoying himself.
Beijing Imperial Guard Ice Hockey Club
Safety is an element of training emphasized by Richard Walker of Beijing Imperial Guard Ice Hockey Club. “It is a fallacy that ice hockey is a violent sport,” he says. “It should not be a physical free-for-all.” For kids under 13, there is a no-hitting policy at the club. As they move into their teenage years, players are taught how to make physical contact while staying mindful of safety.
Beijing Imperial Guard Ice Hockey Club, established in 2007, offers a youth hockey program for children aged 4-15, mostly for those with prior experience and who pass a series of try-outs. As hockey enjoys increasing popularity within the Chinese community, Beijing Imperial Guard ensures a good mix of expat and local Chinese players. The club’s goal is to make hockey an accessible sport to children in Beijing and develop new talent. The Imperial Guard coaches’ objective is to develop players who are passionate about the sport and understand the important link between individual skill and teamwork in being successful at the game.
Hokay Arena 北京浩沙滑冰场
All training sessions take place here. 8 Xilong Jie, Chaoyang Lu, Gaobeidian, Chaoyang District (8578 2590) 朝阳区朝阳路兴隆街甲8号（傣家村大酒店南边）
Beijing International Ice Hockey
Learn to Play Hockey program: RMB 1,400 for 12 weeks (trial equipment available). Wed 5.30-6.30pm (Group 1: Grades 4-6/ages 9-13), Thu 5.30-6.30pm (Group 2: Grades 3 and under/ages 3-8). (Curtis Dracz : 150 1055 8619, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.beijinghockey.com
Beijing Imperial Guard Hockey Club
Hockey club for children with previous experience. (Richard Walker: 139 1112 0605, email@example.com) www.imperialguardhockey.com
Hockey club for children with previous experience. RMB 110/one-hour session. Fri 4.20-5.40pm. (Contact Curtis Dracz at the number listed above or Philip Ho: 139 0101 6012, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Photo by Bao Qiuchen
This article originally appeared on p36-37 of the beijingkids November 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com