8 from ‘08
by Andrew Podnieks|01 FEB 2022
China’s Baiwei Yu is one of the few players who played top-level hockey in China both at the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship and the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
photo: Matthew Murnaghan / HHOF-IIHF Images
The number 8 is considered the luckiest number of all to the Chinese. The word is pronounced “ba” which is similar to “fa,” which means wealth. The number 8 is also doubly lucky this Olympics because there are eight players from the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, which were held in Harbin. The year ’08 was the only time a major IIHF event has been held in China, and that ’08 tournament had originally been scheduled for 2003 but had to be postponed because of the SARS epidemic. 

Let’s look at the eight personalities – seven players and a coach – who will be participating in Beijing and who are here in China for the second time.

Rebecca Johnston (CAN) – The 2008 Women’s Worlds was Johnston’s first major appearance for Canada. The 18-year-old didn’t record a point and Canada lost to the U.S. in the gold-medal game, 4-3, but Johnston has been with the team ever since. That now means she will be playing in her fourth Olympics to go with 10 WW tournaments.

Jenni Hiirikoski (FIN) – The free-skating Finnish blueliner was playing in her fourth Women’s Worlds even though she was only 21 years old. She scored the final goal in a 4-1 win over Switzerland to give Suomi the bronze medal that year, and she has gone on to have a brilliant career as arguably the best defender in women’s hockey history.

Nana Fujimoto (JPN) – The 32-year-old Fujimoto also made 2008 her maiden tournament at the top level in her neighbouring country. Only 19 at the time, she played in just one game as backup to Azusa Nakaoku, a 6-1 loss to Finland. And in a neat bit of trivia, Hiirikoski assisted on an Anne Helin goal in that game. 

Alexandra Vafina (ROC) – Now 31 years old, Vafina was just at the start of a long and distinguished career with her country, one that continues to this day. She had played for Russia in the inaugural U18 Women’s Worlds in Calgary that January before making the senior team for the first time three months later. She has played for the national team ever since.

Nicole Bullo (SUI) – Only 18 back in 2008, Bullo was already in her third WW and had also played at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. Beijing marks her fifth Games, putting her in pretty exclusive company. In ’08, the Swiss lost that bronze-medal game to Finland, but Bullo went on to win bronze at the 2012 WW and bronze again at the historic 2014 Olympics.

Hilary Knight (USA) – Knight was just starting what has been a Hall of Fame career, playing in her second WW by the age of 18. She won silver with the U.S. in 2007 and turned that into gold in Harbin. She has become the all-time scorer in WW play and is in her fourth Olympics, having previously won two silver and that memorable gold four years ago in PyeongChang.

Baiwei Yu (CHN) – Yu is one of three Chinese women who also played at the 2010 Olympics (Zhixin Liu, Mengying Zhang) and the only one who also played on home ice two years earlier. Indeed, she played at the 2007 and 2009 WW as well, making her the most experienced player on the current roster hoping to surprise some teams in the preliminary round next week.

Yuji Iizuka (JPN, coach) – Whatever successes the Japanese program has experienced in the last decade and a half can be credited largely to the work of Iizuka. He played for Japan at the 1993 World Junior Championship and after retiring as a player moved into coaching. His first assignment was at the 2008 WW in China, and he has been part of the program pretty much ever since.