A team of 16 Sunshine Coast hockey players placed third at a tournament held in Beijing in December.
The tournament took place at an outdoor ice rink between the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, two 2010 Summer Olympic venues, and was organized by Group 2022, a private B.C. consulting firm that provides Canadian expertise to countries aspiring to improve their performance in winter sports.
Two Canadian teams participated – the Sunshine Coast team and one from Delta – as well as six teams from China in the “Meet in 2022” tournament.
Shanghai won. “They were incredible; those kids were so good,” said Lisa Stiver, who managed the Sunshine Coast team. “They are very good skills-wise. We are good at working as a team,” she said.
The Sunshine Coast Minor Hockey Association raised approximately $25,000 to pay for flights and accommodations for the players, coaches and parents who attended from Dec. 13 to 19. Following one day of skills development and the three-day tournament, players toured the city, tasted local delicacies and visited the Great Wall of China.
“It was an amazing experience for the kids, eye opening and sort of life changing,” Stiver said.
The trip took place despite tensions between Canada and China following the Dec. 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou. The chief financial officer of the Chinese tech company Huawei was detained in Vancouver.
“The political situation between China and Canada impacted our trip in several ways,” said Jim Dorey, who accompanied the team as a coach.
The impacts started at the airport, where City TV interviewed Dorey about the trip and how the team would navigate potential challenges. The team flew to Beijing the same day it was announced that two Canadians had been detained in China. “I said that we would bring our Sunshine Coast spirit and meet it with kindness on all levels,” Dorey said.
The tournament was supposed to take place during the closing ceremonies of the Canada-China Year of Tourism, but that event was cancelled, as was the team’s dinner with Melanie Joly after the tourism minister postponed her trip. A visit to the Canadian embassy was also cancelled.
And during a team warm up, a Sunshine Coast player was asked to remove a Canadian flag he had draped over his shoulders to wear onto the ice, Dorey said. “Respectfully we agreed and had the player remove the flag.”
Geopolitics aside, Stiver said the players embraced the adventure, including playing on an outdoor rink and reuniting with some of the players and parents from Qiqihar who had travelled to the Sunshine Coast in February 2018.
“Our kids were walking by the rink and they all skated over to the rink and said hi. They recognized them right away,” said Stiver. “It’s a small world… It was pretty neat.”