At a packed Gibsons pub on Thursday, Dec. 6, a hockey game played out on the venue’s flat-screen television while a band played hits from the 1990s. Some revellers may have been cheering on the Canucks, but the organization of honour – as indicated by the Blues jerseys and baseball caps – was the Sunshine Coast Minor Hockey Association (SCMHA).
For the past month, SCMHA players and supporters have been chopping wood, selling doughnuts, securing sponsorships and hosting fundraising events like this burger and beer night to raise the $25,000 needed to pay for flights and accommodations so that 16 of the organization’s U12 players can attend a tournament in Beijing.
The youth were selected as part of an exchange that was launched a year ago by sports consulting firm Group 2022 in the run-up to the Beijing Winter Olympics. In February 2018, youth from the Qiqihar Hockey Program travelled to the Sunshine Coast to play in a tournament in Sechelt, invited by Hockey Canada and BC Hockey. Now it’s the Coast players’ turn.
On Dec. 11, two days before the players were set to board their flights, president Stu Frizzell confirmed they had reached their fundraising goal. The players, coaches and support team will be in Beijing for a week, returning Dec. 19.
“How this community has backed us really pulls on the heartstrings,” said team manager Lisa Stiver at the burger and beer night.
The players will be playing on an outdoor hockey rink that has recently been installed between two Olympic venues in the city. “I’ve never actually played outside in an actual game, so I’m pretty excited for that,” said Nico, one of the U12 players.
Scott, who plays defence, said he had enjoyed playing the Qiqihar teams. “One of them showed me how to poke check better, so that was pretty cool,” he said. He is also working on his Mandarin. Players will receive lessons in Beijing, as well.
Players are also scheduled to visit areas around the city, such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. “I’m very excited,” said Scott. They will also be participating in a Snow and Ice Festival, and one of their games will be featured in the closing ceremonies of the Canada China Year of Tourism. The players will also participate in a training camp.
“It’s always a good opportunity to learn more,” said Scott, who called the trip “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”