The Chinese men’s ice hockey team will lace up their skates and take the ice in Beijing, as officially confirmed by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) after much discussion and evaluation.
China is the 32nd ranked nation in the world and new IIHF president Luc Tardif has expressed significant concern as to whether they could dress a competitive team, especially considering that National Hockey League stars are returning to the Olympic stage in Beijing.
Placed in Group A along with Canada, the United States and the 2018 Olympic silver medalists Germany, China could be battling to avoid embarrassing blow-outs. Goal differential is factored in the standings should teams tie with the same records in group play, an incentive that could lead China’s opponents to try and run up the score.
Adding to China’s difficulties, they will likely have to defend against four of the top six current NHL goal scorers – Leon Draisaiti, 21 (Germany), Auston Matthews and Chris Kreider, 17 each, (USA) and Connor McDavid, 16, (Canada). China currently does not have any active NHL players on its current roster.
One Olympic historian tweeted on social media: “I hope Canada beats them 26-0 and we beat them 27-0.”
For the record, the three largest blow-out in Olympic men’s ice hockey history are Canada 33, Switzerland 0 (Chamonix 1924), USA 31, Italy 1 (St. Moritz 1948) and Canada 30, Czechoslovakia 0 (Chamonix 1924).
To help confirm their status at the Games, the IIHF recently conducted a two-game evaluation of eligible Chinese players as they played alongside the Kontinental Hockey League’s Kunlun Red Star team. In the first game, Kunlun lost 5-4 in overtime, while in the second they were defeated 4-1.
As the host nation, China’s qualification is automatic, however Tardif suggested it was conceivable the country could be removed from the tournament to avoid embarrassment for both the team and the sport.
Tardif, who replaced Rene Fasel as the IIHF president in on September 25, expressed his concerns in a conversation with Around the Rings on September 28.
“We’ve tried to explain to the Chinese people that if we have the best players from the NHL, the best players in the world coming to the Olympic Games and if they don’t do anything to bring a competitive team, it’s not going to work,” Tardif told ATR.
“It’s not going to be good for ice hockey to see a 15-0 game, and it’s not going to be for China also,” said the French Canadian IIHF boss. Now, these scenarios are a realistic possibility, which could cause tension and discomfort among hockey and sport leaders.
Other topics discussed during a two-day IIHF Council meeting in Zurich this week included the successful completion of men’s and women’s test events, November 8-13, at China’s National Indoor Stadium and Wukesong Arena, the venues for Olympic hockey in February.
Four local men’s college teams combined to play a 10-game schedule with specific attention paid to game operations and protocols, including ceremony rehearsals, and test scenarios like video goal judge reviews, coaches’ challenges, and evacuation of injured players. Ice quality and maintenance, boards, and arena lighting were inspected together with medical services, dressing rooms, warm-up facilities and the movement of athletes to and from the ice.
National Hockey League players are returning to the Olympic Games after a league decision to skip PyeongChang 2018, having made their Olympic debut in Nagano 1998. However, the North American league could still opt out of the Beijing Games due to escalation of COVID issues and rescheduling of their own games should they choose. Both the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators missed games in November due to several players being placed in the league’s COVID protocol.
China and the United States are scheduled to face-off in Beijing, on February 10, in the marquee evening contest on the second day of the Olympic preliminary round schedule.
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