A nasty humiliation or a wonderful surprise? Nobody really knows what this Chinese men’s hockey team is worth or not, which begins its Games this Thursday, February 10 (at 2:10 p.m.) against the American ogre. But perhaps it is already necessary to be satisfied with its presence on the Olympic ice rink as its very existence was far from being won a few months earlier.
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The bad soap opera actually begins in 2015 after the attribution of the great white fortnight to the Middle Empire. On the ice, if there is one discipline in which China is conspicuous by its absence, it is men’s hockey. The country is starting from zero to build a team. In a few months, the foundations were laid for a professional club in Beijing, the Kunlun Red Star, which was integrated into the Continental Hockey League (KHL), the Eurasian championship considered to be the most highly rated, after the famous National League. North American (NHL).
A team threatened with exclusion
The idea is to allow the players of this team to harden themselves to constitute the base of the Chinese national team in gestation. Except that over the years, the club drags misery in KHL with poor results. Government support is also far more limited than in other disciplines. Results: six months before the Games, the participation of the Chinese team in the Olympic tournament against leaders such as Germany, the United States and Canada is strongly called into question.
Freshly elected to the presidency of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), the ex-boss of the French federation Luc Tardif fell from the clouds in September 2021 when taking office. “The Chinese federation had sent a list of around sixty players, most of them unknown to the battalionhe tells us. Which can pose a security problem if they were absolutely not level, apart from the fact that they risked being beaten up. I pressed the Chinese authorities, because there was also a problem with the passports. »
Many of the team’s players certainly have Chinese origins, but are mostly Canadian or American, with only six (out of 25) being born in China. To be eligible, North Americans must have at least two years of practice in their host country. The passport imbroglio lasted a few weeks before the IIHF and the IOC finally gave the go-ahead. However, he remains suspended for two so-called “barometer” matches required by the International Federation. With players selectable by China, the Kunlun Red Star passes the test in mid-November 2021: two defeats against Russian clubs, but reasonable.
Only six players born in China
“The fact of hustling them in the preparation was not uselessJudge Luc Tardif. I think the team in the end will not be ridiculous. » Especially since at the last minute, the Chinese will take advantage of the absence in the rival teams of leading professional players playing in the NHL. Due to disruptions to the prestigious Covid-related title, NHL clubs have not released their stars. Faced with B teams from the United States and Canada, the Chinese selection should therefore save itself from bitter disappointments … by presenting themselves ironically with former naturalized NHL players, such as captain Brandon Yip 174 NHL games until in 2014, or Jake Chelios, the son of Chris Chelios, American hockey legend who participated in the 1984, 1998, 2002 and 2006 Games. In China, the first is renamed Jingjuang Ye, and the second Kailiaosi Jieke.
It remains to be seen whether this national team of odds and ends will be sufficient to arouse vocations. Nothing is certain in this matter, as evidenced by the experience of women’s hockey. “In the 1990s and 2000s, they were for a time ranked in the six best nations in the worldexplains Christine Duchamp, the national technical director of the French federation. But no long-term development strategy has been defined and they have sunk into the global hierarchy”. In Beijing, they did not qualify for the quarter-finals, after two defeats but still two victories. The men’s team willingly signed up for such a dignified elimination.