By Kerry Gwydir
Sunday evening was a very special night of acknowledgement for the two youth hockey teams from Harbin and QiQiHar that are being sponsored by the Islanders.
Following the conclusion of the Bell Capital Cup, in which the QiQiHar Snow Leopards placed third in the Atom B Level of the tournament (Harbin was eliminated in the quarterfinals by QiQiHar), the two teams were invited for a special reception at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa that same evening. There, Chinese Ambassador to Canada Lu Shumin spoke to the group and congratulated the players on their wonderful performances.
"It was a very nice event," said Harbin player Zhu Ziyang through our interpreter. "To meet an important man like the Ambassador was very important. I wish we had won the tournament, though!"
In a gracious gesture, the families from the Orleans Devils, who hosted the Harbin team, gave their jerseys off their players' backs literally to the Harbin players as one of the many gifts that they provided the players. The Cumberland Devils, who hosted the QiQiHar players, presented the QiQiHar coaching staff with a banner that lists the players of both the Cumberland and QiQiHar players that's to be hung in QiQiHar's home rink in China.
Like an NHL team, Monday was a travel day for both teams as they boarded buses outside the Ottawa Westin for the trek down to Long Island at 9am. Prior to that, the host families said their goodbyes to the players whom they had made a part of their homes for a week.
"It's tough to see these kids go," said Orleans coach Marc Gagnon, "because we really enjoyed every minute of it. [The week] was a tremendous experience for everyone, win or lose. I really hope that come back next year or some time down the road. Everyone who was a part of this experience will cherish it forever."
The team teams arrived at the Long Island Marriott at approximately 7:15pm for the Long Island leg of their trip. Once settled in, they caught the second and third periods of the Islanders-Tampa Bay game.
On Tuesday, the Chinese teams got another opportunity, as they did in Ottawa, to meet and greet the Islanders prior to the team's morning practice at the Coliseum. Then, it was off to lunch at PF Chang's at the Source Mall in Westbury followed by arcade time at Dave and Buster's. The Islanders' guests finished the afternoon fun with a shopping spree at Roosevelt Field and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Wednesday will provide more hockey time for the Harbin and QiQiHar players as they will play two exhibitions at 1pm and 2:15pm on the Coliseum ice. They will then be a part of the pre-game festivities for the Islanders-Panthers matchup at 7pm.
* Chris Stevenson's column, "Milbury Puts Hockey on Map in China" from the Dec. 28 edition of the Ottawa Sun