22 April 2023
All eyes on Tallinn as China targets back-to-back promotions
So, you thought hockey was done for 2022/23? Not quite. Tomorrow in Tallinn, team China takes to the ice at the start of its World Championship campaign.
The guys are competing in Division IIB, having won promotion last season. It’s China’s first time at this level since 2007 and the prize on offer is a step up to Division IA. From there, one more promotion would put us in the Elite Division, up against the likes of Canada, the USA, Finland, or Sweden.
Normally, a newly-promoted team would be looking to consolidate at the next level. For China, though, sights are set a little higher. After all, the core of our team in Tallinn was involved in the 2022 Olympics and got a taste of international hockey at the highest level. Moreover, it’s a roster studded with KHL experience – a level or two above the kind of leagues where most of our rivals regularly play.
To put that into some kind of context, in last season’s Division IB tournament, which was won on home ice by Poland, the only active KHL players on view were Estonia’s Robert Rooba (then of Severstal Cherepovets) and Kristjan Kombe (a fringe player with Jokerit). Torpedo’s Japanese forward Yu Sato would be eligible to play here but has not been selected. That leaves AHLer Yushiroh Hirano to lead a Japanese team that has won medals at the last four editions of this competition but has yet to claim promotion. This year, with NHL veteran Perry Pearn behind the bench (our paths last crossed when he had a coaching role at Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg), Japan is the top seed – but will that translate into gold?
Our other opponents are Ukraine, bronze medallists in Poland last year, a Serbian team reprieved from relegation due to the restructuring of the IIHF’s divisions, and the Netherlands promoted with us from IIA as part of the same reshuffle.
China’s roster boasts big Olympic experience. We’re excited to have Spencer Foo back with us after he left KRS last summer to join the Golden Knights organization. And Paris O’Brien (Ouban Yongli) returns to action after missing the latest KHL season with the Dragons. He’ll share goaltending duties with Sun Zehao, who gained valuable game time in the KHL towards the end of last season in preparation for this test.
Of course, many of our leaders are suiting up for China once again: Brandon Yip, Cory Kane, Ryan Sproul, Luke Lockhart, Jake Chelios, Parker Foo, and more. But we’re also looking forward to seeing the progress of some of our Chinese-born talent. Chen Kailin, 19, is a Beijing native who played last season in the OJHL with St. Michael’s Buzzers (where he goes by the name of Eric Chen). He moved to Canada in 2018 and his hockey upbringing offers something different from the background of most Chinese-born players. This tournament will be his first for the men’s national team.
Greg Ireland is behind the bench, returning to the international stage after coaching Team Italy at the World Championships in 2020 and 2021, plus Olympic qualification for 2022. He’s had the guys in a training camp in Latvia to prepare for this tournament, and the signs are good. Our last warm-up game brought a 4-3 victory over host nation Estonia, with Lockhart, Jason Fram, Colin Joe, and captain Yipper on target.
The Division IB World Championship campaign starts Sunday against Ukraine. The puck drop is 1600 local time.