That’s a huge advance from 2010. Back then, the Chinese roster was drawn from two clubs in the national championship – Harbin and Qiqihar. The players had little experience of hockey outside their native Heilongjiang region, but won through a qualification group against Norway, Czechia and Japan before finishing seventh out of eight in the Games. Now, the players announced by the Chinese Olympic Committee last night have extensive experience of playing against and alongside some of the best players in the world.
Vancouver returneesDespite all the changes, China still features three players who were involved in Vancouver. Defenders Baiwei Yu and Zhixin Liu are back, as is forward Mengying Zhang. At 33, Yu is the oldest player on the team and she’s set to wear the ‘C’ in Beijing, as she has throughout the season for the Vanke Rays. Yu has played international hockey since 2007, and captained her country since 2012. A steady defensive presence, her tournament experience will be invaluable here. Alongside here, Liu, 28, made her international debut in Vancouver. At club level, she’s played four of the Vanke Rays’ five seasons, helping to win the Russian title in 2020 and tasting CWHL play-off action in 2018. She’s capable of contributing to the offence as well, and had 14 (5+9) points in that championship campaign two years ago.
Forward Zhang, also 28, was another player who made her international debut in Vancouver. Since then, she’s been a mainstay for China, wearing the ‘A’ since 2013/14. This season is her first with the Vanke Rays, where she’s tended to have a bottom six role in her 21 appearances.
Kunlun connectionsThe entire roster is connected to the KRS Vanke Rays in the Russian Women’s Hockey League. In previous seasons, whether playing in Russia or Canada, the club originally based in Shenzhen has attracted high-profile international talent to swell its ranks and help develop the Chinese women’s national team. This season, though, head coach Brian Idalski is running with a line-up of players eligible to go to the Games. And, against opponents stacked with Russian internationals, the Lady Dragons have remained competitive. At the start of December, when the league paused ahead of the Olympics, the team was in fourth place, well on course for a third successive trip to the playoffs. And that’s without help from the likes of Noora Raty, Alex Carpenter or Megan Bozek from the previous season, highlighting the strength of the team’s Chinese players.
The Vanke Rays also did a great job of promoting women’s hockey in its hometown of Shenzhen. The coastal city in the south of China is not renowned for its winter sports, but the fast-growing metropolis proved to be the right spot to develop a new sport for China young, urban generation. At the start of the team’s first season in the Russian WHL, home games against Biryusa attracted league record attendances of almost 3,500. Forced into exile on the outskirts of Russia during the pandemic, the club hopes to further build that audience when it becomes possible to return home and play across the border.
Blending youth and experienceChina’s goaltending brigade features another long-serving Chinese international, Yuqing Wang. She has regularly led the individual statistics in World Championship IB action, and twice represented her country at Universiade events. Wang played two seasons with KRS in the CWHL and returned to the club this term to compete in Russia.
So far, she’s tended to play the understudy to Kimberly Newell, part of the team’s North American-born contingent. The 26-year-old helped Canada to U18 gold in 2013, but the chance to represent China via the Vanke Rays was too tempting to turn down. Now in her fourth season in Chinese hockey, and thus eligible to change her sporting nationality, this Princeton graduate is poised to make her senior international debut in Beijing after playing big role in the Rays’ 2020 title win and table-topping season in 2021. Teenager Tia Chan, another player of Chinese heritage, is in her first season with the Rays and is showing great potential.
Heritage talent nurtures rising starsOn defence, Qianhua Li and Qinan Zhao are part of the new generation of native Chinese talent. The pandemic has slowed Li’s development – the 19-year-old was progressing well with China U18s, making her second World Championship appearance in 2020. Since then, though, she’s had no opportunity to bolster her international experience in the senior game. This season marks her rookie campaign with the Vanke Rays. Zhao, 24, is another of the Harbin contingent on the roster. She’s been part of the international set-up since 2014 and played with the Vanke Rays in both seasons in the CWHL. In the Russian league, she’s established herself on the KRS blue line and seems poised to play a big role in the future for both club and country.
In addition to the players who went to Vancouver, further experience comes from Jessica Wong. She’s earned hardware from World U18 action with Canada, NCAA play with University of Minnesota-Duluth and the Russian championship with the Vanke Rays. Despite starting out in the Canadian national program, the call of her Chinese heritage proved irresistible when KRS entered the CWHL; Wong, now 30, left Calgary Inferno to join the new project and, five seasons later, is a key component of the team. Two more heritage players, Anna Fairman and Camryn Wong, both 21, complete the defensive options.
Home-grown prospects and Russian championsAmong the forwards, five home-grown players highlight the state of China’s women’s hockey program. In addition to Mengying Zhang, there’s extensive international experience from Xin Fang and Yingyang Guan. Fang, 27, is nicknamed ‘Turbo’, which gives an insight into her playing style. She made her senior international debut at the 2011 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I, and followed that with her U18 bow in the following season. She played two seasons with the Vanke Rays in the CWHL and returned to the club this season for her first campaign in Russia. Fang has two goals in the Russian championship this season. Guan, 26, played alongside Fang on the U18s in 2012 and broke into the senior national team in 2015/16. This is her first season with the Vanke Rays. Xin He’s career followed a similar trajectory to Guan’s until 2018/19, her last season of official action. She rejoined the Vanke Rays earlier this season to get up to full fitness ahead of the Olympics but will be a free agent once again after the Games. They are joined by 23-year-old Rui Zhu, another Harbin native now in her third campaign with the Rays.
In previous seasons, a lot of the Rays’ scoring has come from its import players, with Alex Carpenter dominating in the Russian championship. She’s suiting up for Team USA in Beijing, but in her absence there is plenty more firepower from the heritage players. Leah Lum and Rachel Llanes are among the scoring leaders this term, with 19 and 16 points respectively, and both have thoroughly bought in to the whole project since joining the Vanke Rays. Maddie Woo has been involved with KRS since it started its women’s program although, admittedly, she featured sparingly in the first two seasons in Russia. This term, though, she’s been a regular on the team.
In addition, Hannah Miller and Rebekah Kolstad were part of the Rays’ championship roster in 2020. Kolstad played under head coach Idalski at North Dakota and recently announced her return to the club. Miller, a two-time U18 champion with Canada, is also returning to KRS after the Games, having played in Sweden with Djurgarden Stockholm this season.
And there is young talent on the roster as well. At just 19, Taylor Lum is the youngest player on the team. Her heritage gave her a shot at the Olympics, and she paused her studies at St. Lawrence University to join the Vanke Rays and play her way to Beijing. Kassy Betinol, 20, is another college student – this time at University of Minnesota-Duluth – who is taking time out to pursue that Olympic dream. She joined the Vanke Rays this season and leads the team in scoring with 22 points in 21 games so far. China’s gain could be Canada’s loss: Betinol was involved in the Canadian national program but the chance of going to the Olympics this year was a persuasive factor in moving to China. Another young forward, 20-year-old Anna Segedi, completes the forward line.
Tia Chan, KRS Vanke Rays
Kimberly Newell, KRS Vanke Rays
Yuqing Wang, KRS Vanke Rays
Anna Fairman, KRS Vanke Rays
Qianhua Li, KRS Vanke Rays
Zhixin Liu, KRS Vanke Rays
Camryn Elise Wong, KRS Vanke Rays
Jessica Wong, KRS Vanke Rays
Baiwei Yu, KRS Vanke Rays
Qinan Zhao, KRS Vanke Rays
Kassy Betinol, KRS Vanke Rays
Xin Fang, KRS Vanke Rays
Yingying Guan, KRS Vanke Rays
Xin He, Harbin
Rebekah Kolstad, KRS Vanke Rays
Rachel Llanes, KRS Vanke Rays
Leah Lum, KRS Vanke Rays
Taylor Lum, KRS Vanke Rays
Hannah Miller, Djurgarden Stockholm (SWE)
Anna Segedi, KRS Vanke Rays
Madison Woo, KRS Vanke Rays
Mengying Zhang, KRS Vanke Rays
Rui Zhu, KRS Vanke Rays