IT'S CHINA VS. CHINA
By Kerry Gwydir
It'll be the Battle of China on New Year's Day as the teams from Harbin and QiQiHar advanced to the semifinals of the Bell Capital Cup Atom B round-robin tournament on Saturday. The two teams will play at the Bell Sensplex at 12:45pm on New Year's Day with the winner going on to the final on Monday morning at the Corel Centre.
Harbin used three goals from Game MVP Ji Peng in a hard-fought 4-0 win over the Embrun (Ont.) Panthers in the evening at the Ray Friel Centre in Orleans, Ont. Goaltender Xia Shengrong was brilliant, particularly in the second period, as he stopped all 24 shots that he faced. It was not an easy game for Harbin, who nursed a 2-0 lead late into the waning moments of the third period. Penalties and a furious attack by Embrun kept Harbin on their toes, but several keys stops by Shengrong and goals by Peng and Zhang Zesen sealed the outcome in the final minutes of the contest.
"It's very exciting," said May Zhou, the Islanders' representative from the team's Harbin office. "Everyone played so hard and they are having a lot of fun. I'm sure the game against QiQiHar is going to be enjoyed by everyone."
QiQiHar disposed of the Almonte Thunder just prior to the Harbin game by a 6-0 shutout. Four goals from Zhang Cheng and 14 stops by Liang Guizi led the way for the Snow Leopards.
Earlier in the day, both teams won their first contests of the day at the Ray Friel Center. Harbin defeated the Stittsville Spitfires by a 5-0 score. Two goals by Zhang Zhen paced Harbin to a 4-0 first period lead and cruised to a 5-0 victory. QiQiHar opened the morning's schedule with a 3-0 win over the Petawawa Vipers.
The teams also participated in a series of skills events, with the QiQiHar team winning the team fastest skate competition and puck relay.
"We want to win [the tournament]," said Harbin captain Zu Ziyang who was named as the top forward, though he is a defenseman, in the All-Star Game, on Friday night. "We are having a lot of fun with the families that we are living with, and we would like to beat the QiQiHar team and win the championship game."
There's no doubt that Sunday's matchup will be one of serious bragging rights. Both teams have been the class of their divisions, to this point. The goal scoring of Zhang Zhen, the goaltending of Liang Guizi and shift defensemen Zheng Canji and Liu Peng have been the strong points for QiQiHar. For Harbin, the play of their fleet-footed defenseman Zhu Ziyang along with the offensive talent of Ji Peng will provide a great matchup for both clubs.
Away from the rink, what's been even more enjoyable is the incredible kinship between the Chinese hockey players and their billet families from the Cumberland Devils and Orleans Devils. Whenever the teams play, the players of both teams cheer each other on and are the first ones to greet the other off the ice. On top of that, the parents from both Ontario teams have made the cultural and language transition to North America as easy as possible for the Chinese players and staff.
"They've been so helpful," said Zhou. "You can't believe how much they have done for both teams. We can't thank them enough."
* Chris Stevenson's column, "Milbury Puts Hockey on Map in China" from the Dec. 28 edition of the Ottawa Sun