A South Surrey-based bantam spring hockey team is taking their game to the Far East.
In early August, the Top Shelf All-Stars – made up predominantly of Semiahmoo Minor Hockey members but also including players from seven other Lower Mainland associations – will board a plane for Beijing, where they’ll spend a week playing games against local Chinese teams, while also soaking up plenty of culture off the ice.
The idea was hatched when the team’s coach, South Surrey resident Dave McLellan, was contacted out of the blue in April by the son of his former agent.
From 1999 until 2008, McLellan – who has coached locally with the junior ‘B’ Delta Icehawks as well as in the BC Hockey League with the Burnaby Express – coached professionally in Japan, for the Nippon Cranes.
Knowing McLellan had ties to Asia, his agent’s son – now living in Beijing and working for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) – wanted to know if he’d be interested in bringing his Top Shelf bantam squad to China for a series of games.
“It’s funny how things happen,” chuckled McLellan, when discussing how the trip came about.
“It all came together very fast, and we had to make a quick decision. It was a time challenge and also an economic challenge – it’s very expensive to fly there. Half our costs are just airfare. But there was 100 per cent support from our parent group.”
In an effort to offset some of the costs, the team held a barbecue and bottle drive Saturday at Docksteader Source for Sports in South Surrey.
The Lower Mainland team will play at least four games in Beijing, from Aug. 3-10, with players from all teams mixing-and-matching at various points.
“It’s basically a series of friendlies, to steal a term from soccer,” McLellan said. “We’re not sure on the exact format just yet, but there will be a bit of an exchange where one day half our team will go play for the other team, and half their guys will come play for us.
“The Beijing players, they really want to have that integration on the ice. We’re going to do a meet-and-greet skate, too, and some of those kinds of things. They want to learn from us. They want to learn about hockey from a Canadian perspective.”
There will be plenty of off-ice activities planned as well, McLellan said. The team will visit the Great Wall, as well as Tiananmen Square, and will also spend time with the Chinese players away from the rink.
“It’s just a great exchange of hockey and culture. From my perspective, it’s all about learning, for all the kids,” the coach said.
“To be able to go here because of hockey, that’s a pretty great opportunity for these guys. I mean, who would’ve ever thought you’d get to go to Beijing because of hockey?”
Two members of the team – defenceman Brandon Lam and goaltender Aidan Kahl – both expressed excitement about the upcoming trip, with Lam especially interested for family reasons.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing the different culture, and sharing our culture with them,” Lam said.
“Plus, my dad is Chinese so it will be cool to see where he’s from.”
And though it’s not Japan, where he spent a decade coaching, for McLellan, the trip is a welcome return to Asia.
While it stirs up plenty of memories of a time he calls “one of the best experiences of my whole life,” McLellan also notes many similarities between where China is hockey-wise now, and where Japan was in the late ’90s when he arrived.
The Asian Professional Hockey League – which now has teams in Japan, China and South Korea – was founded in 2003, and McLellan said the appetite for the game is on the rise.
“China is kind of where Japan was a number of years ago, but as far as infrastructure goes, it’s quite good. Hockey there seems to be on a huge, huge upswing… it’s growing,” he said.
“And that’s what this trip is about – boosting interest in the sport and helping grow the sport a little bit there.”
For more on the team and its upcoming trip, visit www.allstars2china.com