23 January 2023
China’s Juniors win World Championship group
The future of Chinese hockey is in good hands. This week China’s U20 national team won World Championship gold in Reykjavik, Iceland, enjoying its first triumph at an IIHF Division II tournament.
Our youngsters came out on top in Division IIB of the World Championship, defeating teams from Iceland, Belgium, Serbia, Chinese Taipei and Mexico. And, in a week of steadily improving performances, China moved from a tense overtime win against the Belgians in the opener to finish with five straight victories and a goal differential of 29-9.
That game against Belgium was vital. Our guys trailed three times, but kept their composure to claw back the top seed each time. Then, in overtime, we began to believe. China dominated the extras and got its reward in the final minute when Lyu Zhiyi, a prospect from U.S. AAA hockey, grabbed the all-important game-winner. At the end of the tournament, China would finish one point ahead of Belgium and it was all down to that opening victory.
The versatile Wei Ziyao – like our own Jason Fram, he can play at either end of the ice – acknowledged that the Belgium game was the start of something big.
“We got better and better throughout the five games,” he told the IIHF’s Weibo live stream. “When we first arrived, we were nervous in the first game. Through our constant discussions with each other and communication with the coach, the whole team gradually got better. We are excited about the result.”
Wei’s contribution sums up the commitment and flexibility of this team. Usually a defenseman, he was switched to the attack partway through the competition as head coach Aleksandrs Macijevkis sought greater firepower. Overcoming his nerves at taking on a new role in a major tournament, Wei finished with 5 (3+2) points and China’s scoring picked up. The first two games brought eight goals, a tally the team matched in game three, an 8-2 thrashing of a Serbian team that had its own hopes of gold. After that, a 5-2 success against Iceland meant everything was in China’s hands on the final day: defeat Chinese Taipei and take gold, regardless of other results.
That Sunday showdown was never really in doubt. Two first-period goals, one of them from Wei, set the tone and the young Dragons rolled to an 8-2 victory. Job done, in fine style.
Team captain Chen Kailin, Beijing born but one of a handful of North American-based players on the team, reckoned that much of the team’s success could be attributed to the players’ willingness to adapt during each game.
Chen was also one of the team’s leading scorers, compiling 9 (4+5) points. Li Mingshenhao, another Beijing native now based in Ontario, also finished with nine points, scoring five goals and four assists, while Lyu Zhiyi had 8 (3+5).
China’s goaltending also topped the charts in Reykjavik. Chen Shifeng recorded the only shut-out of the tournament, blanking Mexico in a 4-0 win. He finished with an impressive save ratio of 95.32%, with his colleague Tian Boyan second for that metric with 92.65%. Both are players to look out for in future.
This success lifts China’s juniors to Division IIA, the fourth tier of U20 international men’s hockey. It’s the highest we’ve been as a nation since 2011, when we were relegated from the single-group Division 2 that operated at the time. Since then, we’ve bumped around the bottom two sections for more than a decade. Now, though, with hockey on the rise in China, we are seeing our national teams reaching new heights.
And progress for young Chinese players can only be good news for Kunlun Red Star. A big part of our club’s mission is to identify and develop home-grown talent to play in the KHL. In recent seasons, with the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, much of that work has had to continue behind the scenes. However, the success of our team in Iceland shows the progress underway with the support of the Chinese Ice Hockey Association. We’ll be looking forward to seeing some of these players get a chance to show what they can do within our club in the seasons to come as ice hockey in China continues to break new ground.