China ready for Olympic hockey despite concerns

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China will take part in the men’s hockey tournament at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Beijing after initially fearing the team would be embarrassed at home against an NHL-level competition.

The International Ice Hockey Federation confirmed China’s participation on Tuesday, averting what would have been an unprecedented withdrawal by a host nation team for performance reasons. The IIHF has spent the past few weeks reviewing the eligibility of players to represent China.

The players making up the Chinese national team played two recent test matches against Russian opponents with international officials watching them closely. The team, which play as Kontinental Hockey League club Kunlun Red Star, lost 4-1 to Avangard Omsk and 5-4 in overtime to Amur Khabarovsk, being shot 77-43 in both matches. combined.

Kunlun’s coach Ivano Zanatta said the matches were proof that his team lived up to Olympic standards.

“Certainly not behind Norway, Denmark or Latvia. We are equal to those countries,” Zanatta said. “Today and the last game, they proved they have the character and the ability and they have the right to participate in their own Olympics.”

The IIHF agreed, although Kunlun has lost 29 of 36 KHL games this season and China is ranked 32nd in the world.

The hope is that an influx of international players will keep China from blowing themselves up in group matches against the United States, Canada and Germany. Top scorers Spencer Foo and Brandon Yip and top defenseman Ryan Sproul are Canadians, and starting goalie Jeremy Smith is American, although there is still uncertainty as to who will qualify to play in Beijing.

The IIHF allows players to naturalize and represent a country if they have played there for at least two years. It is not clear whether there were eligibility issues for some naturalized players as the pandemic forced Kunlun to leave China for a suburb of Moscow in early 2020. Athletes must be citizens of a country to participate in the Olympics.

After winning the 2022 Olympics in 2015, China hired top coaches from overseas and invested in a youth academy with the aim of developing a local team on time. That failed, but China will still be able to play at home in February.

Attention now turns to participation in the NHL, which was accepted with the caveat that the league and the Players’ Association could withdraw if pandemic conditions worsen. If a significant amount of NHL games are postponed for reasons related to the coronavirus, withdrawal is an option as the 2 1/2 week Olympic break would be required for rescheduling purposes.

The NHL / AJLNH deadline is January 10.


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