A DREAM REALIZED
By Kerry Gwydir and Laurene Gros-Daillon
When Islanders owner Charles Wang put together a "scouting mission", of sorts, to China for G.M. Mike Milbury to survey the hockey landscape of the cities of Harbin and Qiqihar, who would have thought the professional hockey community would have gotten on board.
With the help of the Islanders and the team's Children's Foundation, Nike Bauer, the Ottawa Senators along with contributions from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Atlanta Thrashers, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, NJ Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues, two youth hockey teams from those two Chinese cities arrived in North America on Tuesday night and are prepared to take on some of the world's best in Ottawa this week at the prestigious Bell Capital Cup.
"This is the first time that I've traveled out of my country," said 10-year old Harbin captain Zhu Ziyang through an interpreter, who was thrilled at the sight of the Statue of Liberty as the teams' flight descended into Newark Airport.
The itinerary of the clubs has been extensive as they've traveled nearly two days to get from their cities to Beijing (it's a 12-hour train ride from Harbin to Beijing). Then, the players, coaches and staff hopped a 12-hour flight from Beijing that arrived at Newark Airport on Tuesday night. From there, the two teams were met by Islanders' staff and bused up to Binghamton, NY. After getting some rest, they departed this morning for the five-hour trek to Ottawa.
There, the Chinese contingent will be greeted by members of the Bell Capital Cup, Islanders' GM Mike Milbury and representatives of Nike Bauer who have generously donated over $100,000 worth of hockey gear to the youth hockey programs of Qiqihar and Harbin. When the teams arrive, Milbury and the Nike Bauer will provide each player from the two teams a full set of new hockey gear from Nike Bauer.
The teams, who range from age nine to 11, will then depart with their host billet families from the Ottawa-area Orleans Devils and Cumberland Devils. The tournament commences on Thursday for both squads, with the Harbin playing at the Corel Centre, home of the Ottawa Senators.
Friday will provide plenty of excitement for both teams as they will be guests of the Islanders and Senators, who play that night at the Corel Centre at 7pm. For Zhu and the rest of the Chinese contingent, it's a dream come true.
"I've never seen an NHL game in my life," said Zhu. "I'm very excited. I've seen some pro tournaments between Russian, Japan and Korean teams, but never anything like this."
When we talked to Zhu, we found out that the Harbin captain is a defenseman that wears No. 3, just like Islanders' defenseman Brent Sopel. When Zhu heard that, he was excited to see the Islanders' No. 3 in action on Friday against the Senators. "I'll be really excited to meet him," said Zhu.
The two teams will play in a round-robin tournament all week, with playoffs starting on Saturday. On Monday, the Chinese contingent will return to Long Island for the duration of their stay where they will visit Manhattan, watch the Islanders-Florida Panthers game on the 4th at Nassau Coliseum before departing on Jan. 6.
* THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME
* Chris Stevenson's column, "Milbury Puts Hockey on Map in China" from the Dec. 28 edition of the Ottawa Sun