Newcomers to Richmond Warming Up to the Game

For many families, moving to Canada from a foreign country typically means getting your kids involved in hockey, or even getting involved yourself. It's part of the culture here and it's everywhere you go.

For Daniel Luk, this happened right away and his whole family now loves the game.

The Richmond Minor Hockey Association was very helpful and welcoming to Daniel and his family, and is a fine example of how the people in Richmond are, as well as how much they love the game of hockey.

Looks to be a fantastic host for the 2020 CARHA Hockey World Cup!

Original story posted here.

Daniel Luk first put on skates when he moved from Guangzhou in southern China to Richmond in 2014. A year into lessons — with his parents, Colin Luk and Shuying Kong, navigating their new lives here — the then-five year-old wanted to try hockey.

His mother, who hails from the northern Chinese city of Harbin, was up for her son being on the ice, but not so much for him banging around, chasing a puck.

“It seemed very violent,” says Kong, waving her elbows in the air.

“I didn’t want his body to be injured in one of the crashes.”

But Daniel kept asking, and the family ran into an outreach booth set up by the Richmond Minor Hockey Association to more energetically attract just their demographic. The association used to get more children signing up for hockey because one parent played or was familiar with the game.

When the Vancouver Canucks play exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai, it’ll be a notable step in the league’s plan for promoting hockey in China. It’s obvious what capturing hearts in this market has done for basketball. The popularity of Chinese superstar Yao Ming has fuelled fans, billion-dollar television deals and investment interest in the NBA.

There is definitely an eye on up-and-coming elite players of Chinese descent across North America who might do the same for professional hockey.

And so, across Metro Vancouver, in the much humbler circles of amateur hockey that could feed into the possibility of this happening, Asian-Canadian players, with and without particular ties to mainland China, are talking about how their participating in the sport is changing. Even so, some say there are lingering stereotypes and moments of outright racism. They yearn for inspiring role-models and more inclusive stories.

Back in Richmond, the minor association drew Daniel and his parents into an introductory program. “They really cared for us,” says Kong.

“Many participants borrow equipment from us,” says Carolyn Hart, president of the Richmond Minor Hockey Association, emphasizing how its community has rallied around these programs.

“If I need nine shin guards, I could put out a call and find two pairs on my doorstep within hours.”

This September, the association has more than 50 children registered in introductory programs and “we fully expect that some will join teams in short order,” says Hart.

Many of these families also benefit from a dedicated and willing circle of Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking translators, including the association’s director of hockey. They help with paperwork and guidance that used to be available in Chinese but in a much more haphazard way.

As for Daniel, two years later, and he is now part of a “Hockey 3 team,” having progressed through an entry level and a second one. There is joy in each story as his dad, Colin, describes joining friends at team parties and taking practice shots on a scraped-up wall at home. “He teaches me what I have to do to help him,” he says. 

In an unexpected twist, Colin says that Daniel’s playing hockey in Richmond, which he agreed to so his son could “be part of the national sport in Canada” is, at the same time, connecting them to back to China, where there is growing interest in the game ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. 

“We watch NHL hockey (online) on Channel 5,” says Colin, referring to China Central Television’s Sports Channel, CCTV-5, the main sports broadcaster in mainland China. Last season, it was airing as many as four, live broadcasts of NHL games a week, calling them in Mandarin.

Even Daniel’s mom, who was reluctant for him to play, is a convert.

“It really is so much fun. I understand now that, actually, at his age, the playing is not so intense, so I have let go of my worries,” she says. “He is a little bit of an introvert, but now has more confidence. He is standing taller than he used to be.”

They are thrilled and, like any parents, dare to quietly dream about the possibilities. 

“We hear other people talking, and they say, in the last two or three to five years, there are many, many more Chinese families like ours,” playing minor hockey, says Kong.

“Once one child likes it, they bring their friends and other families, and it gets easier to bring in more players,” says Lynne Kiang, a longtime volunteer and president of the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association, which overseas minor hockey associations in the Lower Mainland from Hope to the Sunshine Coast. 

This community drive and family support to play hockey in the early years is different from the experiences of Courtney Szto and some of her teammates in a recreational league.

When she signed up in Vancouver for hockey lessons as an adult — “I was 21 (and) realized that I had a car to get me to and from hockey and enough money to buy my own equipment” — and that she was the only Asian.

Then, she was one of two Asians on a team, she recalls. Now, around 10 years later, she is on a team, known as the Hatchicks, that is “equally Asian and white.”

The shift is due, in part, she says, to “demographic changes” across the city. But her team still feels “more diverse in race than most other teams it competes against.”  

On a recent Saturday, Szto’s team kicked off the season with a game at Burnaby 8 Rinks. Her mom watched from a room upstairs.

“You sometimes hear that you (being Asian) don’t have the right body type to play hockey. If there is more playing of hockey in Asia, it can bring attention to the fact that this is absolutely not true,” says Szto, who has done academic research about South Asian experiences in hockey and writes articulately about racial discrimination in sport.

“I keep my head up. Not that I think it has to do with my race, but I do take more head shots because of my height,” says teammate Bonnie So, who is smaller in stature.

She also grew up in Vancouver and started playing hockey as an adult in her mid-20s after first falling in love with watching it on television during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Says So: “Nobody in my family plays hockey. If they can grow the sport around the world, and in Asia, and here, I think that would be amazing. I don’t really see any Asian players. If I did, then I could wonder, ‘how did they get started?’

Or how do they handle racist comments? Says So: “I’ve heard at face-offs at centre, ‘open your eyes,’ but my eyes are open. That’s something I hear. There are worse things, and I haven’t heard them in this league, but I’ve heard it before.”

There is a lot of recent chatter about hockey players of Asian descent breaking into professional ranks, but Szto points out there hasn’t been much myth-making of past milestones. There’s Larry Kwong, she says, who was born and played junior hockey in Vernon before briefly joining the New York Rangers in 1948. He only played one disappointing game where he was barely on the ice and didn’t score a goal, but, considering the times, it was a moment complete with the Montreal Canadiens and the legendary Maurice Richard in opposition.

“He was like the Jackie Robinson of hockey for us and we don’t hear much about this,” says Szto, drawing parallels with to the African-American player known for ending segregation in professional baseball when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

The academic in Szto says common beliefs about who is playing hockey need to be fuller, that there are “partial truths stand(ing) in for whole truths: Where are the stories about our adult hockey parents hanging out in cold rinks to support their grown-ass daughters playing recreational hockey? Where are the depictions about single Asian women showing up at the rink by themselves to learn how to play hockey?”

The Canucks are off to China to play two exhibition games against the L.A. Kings on Thursday, Sept. 21 and Saturday, Sept. 23. Ed Willes will be filing live reports from Shanghai and Beijing as he covers the team. We also have a special feature each day looking into why the NHL has undertaken this trip and what the spinoff effects are locally and globally for hockey and for the Vancouver Canucks.


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