Bob Xu, Ned Moreland, and Morgan Dewdney are heading to China with the rest of the Bates ice hockey team on Saturday. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

 

AUBURN — Senior Bob Xu had an ambitious plan for the Bates College club hockey team.

To say he succeeded is an understatement.

The Beijing, China native wanted to share the culture of his home country with his teammates. What better way than spending a week in the world’s second-largest city while using hockey as a tool to communicate and experience the Chinese culture?

Xu, who played for China’s Under-18 national team, used his connections with the China hockey community, such as former coaches, and with the help of the Beijing Sports Bureau he started the International Ice Hockey Tournament of World Universities.

“This whole idea started last year with the tensions between the two countries, USA and China,” Xu, who’s also an assistant captain on the team, said. “Growing up and playing hockey in Beijing, I know a lot of connections over there. I was thinking about having an international tournament, the two countries together, also having other countries so college athletes (get to) know each other better and to have a better environment before the 2022 (Winter) Olympics. That’s my primary goal.”

Bates begins the tournament Monday against Harbin Sports University of the Heilongjiang province. It runs the entire week, and the players will return to Lewiston next Sunday. They also play schools from the Czech Republic and from Belarus, plus playoff games if they do advance. Other countries that will have schools competing include Finland, Russia and South Korea.

Xu was the liaison to get all the teams in place for the tournament.

“I am the person actually emailing people, answering questions,” Xu said. “There has been worries, but I have been communicating and being very transparent with the organizing people down in Beijing. They have been doing a lot of logistics stuff and the communication with sponsors, the local government, the ice rink and the hotel.”

In 2022, Beijing will become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics (it hosted the summer games in 2008). Hockey is growing in China, and the International Ice Hockey Tournament of World Universities will be a demonstration of the sport to help the country get to know it better.

The NHL has hosted preseason games in China the past two season, including the Boston Bruins playing two games against the Calgary Flames this past September.

“It’s really cool, I watched the preseason games the Bruins had,” Bates assistant captain Morgan Dewdney said. “Obviously, we aren’t comparing to them, but playing in the same place as them in the same country is really cool. It goes to show how much effort the Beijing Sports Bureau and the country as a whole is putting forward to popularize hockey before the Winter Olympics.”

China also has the Kunlun Red Star in the Kontinental Hockey League, primarily based in Russia, that is considered one of the better leagues outside of the NHL.

Xu hopes this tournament will help grow the game at the college level in China.

COMING TOGETHER QUICKLY

While Xu has been doing the leg work since the last school year to set up the tournament, and has working with the Chinese government, everything didn’t become finalized until the end of January when the hockey team received permission to go from Bates.

“There was no hesitation for their (Bates administration) part,” Katie Cody, a sophomore and the secretary of the board of the Bates club team said. “They just wanted to make sure we were sending our students into a safe environment, especially since we never had played in this (type) of tournament before. It was more so we just had to take time to look into it and look who we were playing to make sure the kids (don’t) get hurt.”

Cody, had the hectic responsibility of rounding up the necessary information from the team’s 20-plus players so they can get into China.

“They were really helpful and they understood the time deadlines we had to work with,” Cody said. “They worked with me, so it went as efficiently and effectively as possible so we only had to do the processes once. I was really appreciative of that.”

The hockey players, just like the rest of the student body, had finals this past week, and that added extra stress before flying halfway across the world.

Team president and captain Ned Moreland said a lot of support came from the people closest to the players.

“The first thing I was tasked with was mitigating costs, that really relied on fundraising,” Moreland said. “A lot of our parents and a lot of the Bates community and hockey alumni have been supporting us, kind of giving us things we need to prepare.

“It was a foreign concept to a lot of our team in applying for visas. Some members of our team have never been outside the country before. A few of us never had to get a visa before — even with a U.S. passport, you don’t necessarily need a visa to go to leave the United States. It was a process and a great learning experience.”

The players are going to China on the typical 60-day tourist visa.

STAYING IN HOCKEY SHAPE

The Bobcats’ hockey season usually ends before they leave for break during the third week of February, so they’ve spent about six weeks of making sure they stay physically ready.

“A lot of it has been maintaining our legs, maintaining our stamina, and we also will be playing on a bigger (ice) surface when we go over there — that’s been the focus, fitness up to the standard that we want to be on,” Dewdney said. “Then going back to the systems that we have implemented since we don’t know what our competition is going to be like. If you have solid systems, then it doesn’t matter who you are playing, you will do really well.”

China, like most countries outside North America, uses an Olympic-sized ice sheet, which is 200 x 100 feet. The NHL-sized sheets of the United States and Canada are typically 200 x 85 feet.

The University of Southern Maine’s USM Ice Arena in Gorham has an Olympic sheet, and Bates tried to get practice time there, but by mid-March the rink’s ice had already been removed.

There won’t be much practice time in China, either. The Bobcats are expecting that the first time they step on the ice will be for warm-ups prior to the game against Harbin.

LEARNING A CULTURE

Moreland and Dewdney, who are both seniors, don’t have any specific expectations for what the players will do away from the rink in China.

“For me, personally, all I am going to do is absorb the culture,” Moreland said. “Culture is the big piece for me. I am a politics-Japanese double major. I’ve been to Japan, but China would be a great opportunity for me to see big part of Asia’s culture outside Japan.”

They are also trying to keep an open mind to everything.

“Like Bob said a little bit earlier, we hear a lot about China and we hear a lot about these countries on the other side of the world, but we don’t experience what it’s like,” Dewdney said. “I don’t have the right word, but we have sort of these ideas about China, and we don’t know if they are necessarily true. It will be interesting to go and see what all China has to offer.”

The players are glad they will be able to share their experiences with other students across the world who share the same passion for the sport.

“One thing to keep in mind about this tournament, as Bob said, it’s about the experience, it’s about sharing the love of hockey and the culture and using it as an opportunity to communicate to people who we wouldn’t have a connection to,” Moreland said.