BEIJING (Reuters) – China and its mostly foreign-born men’s hockey players looked ahead to their next game after the country’s unusual project to field an Olympic team from scratch got off to a difficult start.
About 1,000 spectators and a large contingent from the Chinese Olympic committee saw China’s first men’s Olympic ice hockey team beaten 8-0 by a faster and more skilled U.S. team late on Thursday at the National Indoor Stadium.
Where China invested heavily to identify and train local talent to be competitive in several winter sports where it does not have tradition, in hockey it outsourced development to Kunlun Red Star, a Chinese-owned team in Russia’s Kontintental Hockey League that doubles as its national squad.
“We were excited, it’s been a long time coming,” said team captain Brandon Yip, 36, who was born in Canada and played 174 games in the National Hockey League.
“I thought we had a great start. We were physical, took care of the puck early, then we made too many defensive mistakes.”
Many who were watching a hockey game for the first time on TV said they did not begrudge China’s use of mostly Canadian and U.S.-born players, including many without obvious Chinese heritage.
One noted that many countries include “guihua,” or naturalised, athletes in their Olympic teams.
China doesn’t allow dual citizenship but appears not to have required foreign players to renounce their passports.
“It shows that our country is attractive, and people see the possibility for long-term development … It’s similar to our ping-pong athletes, being absorbed by other teams,” Han Sifeng wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo.
Another said the United States would have scored 15 goals against China if not for its imported players.
Last year, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) had considered asking China to withdraw from the tournament due to worries about its competitiveness.
The NHL’s decision not to send players to Beijing due to schedule disruptions caused by COVID-19 helps make the China team more competitive. It plays Germany on Saturday and Canada on Sunday to finish its group stage.
“There’s room for growth in our team,” said Jeremy Smith, China’s Michigan-born goalie. “I’m not sure if it was nerves or what. We didn’t really have a lot of momentum but that’s okay because it’s early in the tournament.”
(Reporting by Tony Munroe; editing by Richard Pullin)