The out-of-town youngsters were a little tired from an overseas flight and hectic schedule of ice time, but the young players from Hong Kong gave it their all during an outdoor shinny game against the Willowdale Blackhawks minor atom team Monday, Dec. 24.
The players, who hailed from the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey, glided into Irving Chapley Arena on Wilmington Drive to play a game against the North York players before heading to Ottawa for the Bell Capital Cup tournament Dec. 28 to Jan. 1.
The two teams had already played two games the day before, with the hometown team beating their rivals both times.
The games were designed to give the Hong Kong players some practice before heading to the nation’s capital, said their coach Stuart Winchester.
The 18 players, most of them 10 years old, got into Toronto Saturday, Dec. 22 and had already played four games by the time Monday afternoon rolled around.
“This team doesn’t play together, it’s made up of four different teams,” he said. “It’s important they play together and get some much needed experience. I thought some pre-tournament games would help improve their skills. They were pretty spent after the third game, but the best way to punch through jet lag is to keep going. We want them to have a great experience and we’ve talked about attitude and supporting one another. We want to see where our program is compared to Canada and where our challenges are.”
Scott McFarland, a team manager with the Willowdale Blackhawks, said he got a call about a month ago about a team that was looking to play a few games exhibition-style to gain experience and thought holding it in an outdoor rink would give them a “true Canadian hockey experience.”
“It’s exciting for kids on both sides,” said McFarland, adding the kids indulged in Canadian fare – Tim Hortons Tim Bits and hot chocolate – before the game.
“There is no clock, no lines on the ice,” he said. “It’s very old-school style. They are there to have fun, there’s not a lot of defence.”
York Centre Councillor James Pasternak said the game is what international relations is all about.
“When I got a call saying there was a team from Hong Kong playing in Ward 10 and would I do the welcome and face off, I cleared my schedule and made sure I was here,” said Pasternak, who dropped the ceremonial puck. “This is the kind of thing we want to encourage.”
Ryan Qin was looking forward to his first outdoor hockey game against players from his hometown.
“There aren’t going to be any rules so you can concentrate on other stuff,” he said.
Hong Kong player Marvin Hsu, who was on his first trip to Canada, said he hopes to complete his post-secondary studies here.
“I think Canada is a wonderful place,” said the 10-year-old. “We’ve played a few games already and we’re starting to work together better. I’m looking forward to the tournament.”
The North York team ended up beating the Hong Kong players 7-5.