So far, the Chinese have lived up to the pre-tournament hype by winning their first four games and outscoring their opponents 31-7.
“Overall, I think we’re playing really well,” said centre Qiqi Lin. “The coach has given us a lot of freedom to play how we’ve been playing all year and the team has a lot of chemistry. We’ve been playing well so far and we’ve got one game to go.”
Lin, also known as Leah Lum, is one of three North American-born linemates from KRS Vanke Rays who are the top-three scorers of the tournament so far. Lin and Ni Lin (Rachel Llames) both have 12 points while Le Mi (Hannah Miller) has 10 through four games. The four have now played for the Chinese-based club for several years, during which time they became naturalized citizens when China was looking for players with Chinese heritage abroad.
“Rachel was here the year before I came to KRS and then I came with Miller (in 2018),” said Lin. “We’ve kind of been in and out of the lines in the four years but it’s been pretty solidified this past season. We know each other and how each other play, so it’s been really good.”
Lin, whose seven assists lead the tournament so far, says that “both of my linemates shoot more. I’m more of a pass-first player.”
“They bring leadership and they play a very offensive style, but they’re also very responsible defensively,” said head coach Clayton Beddoes, who also coaches the trio at KRS. “They respect both sides of the game and when your top players play that way, it’s easier to coach because it sets an example to the rest of the team.”
Beijing 2022 was the first Olympics for the Chinese women’s hockey team since Vancouver 2010, and they played four close Group B games against Czechia, Denmark, Japan and Sweden, earning five points and just barely missing out on the quarter-finals.
“Being my first Olympics, I was just trying to go in with an open mind and take everything in,” said Lin. “Even here, this is my first World Championship too. It’s a surreal thing and hard to even put into words.”
Comparing the level of play between the two, she said: “Obviously, the Olympics was tough competition, a little bit higher pace, but we take these games the same way and we’re always focused.”
The game to determine who advances to Division I Group A in 2023 will be the last of the tournament between China and host Poland, who will have the fans inside Jantor Arena on their side. Although China has a one point advantage in the standings, 12-11, that won’t matter on Thursday night. Simply, whoever wins advances.
“We know they haven’t lost a game either,” Lin said about the Polish team. “We’re going to take it the same as the past four games. We’re excited for it and we’re ready to go.”
Coach Beddoes has seen four teams try to slow down his top line’s offence and expects the same against Poland.
“I think all these teams are well-coached and defence just goes along with that,” said Beddoes. “We do have the puck a lot so these other teams have had to play a lot of defence, but they’ve all played very structured and very sound defensively. A lot of the time, it’s been very difficult to penetrate and get high-quality scoring chances.”
Once a regular participant in the top division of the Women’s World Championships, China twice in the 1990s finished in fourth place but was relegated from the top flight in 2009 and then from Division I Group A in 2011. Since then, the Chinese have struggled to get back but 2022 might be their year.
“It’s one thing to invest in the program when the Olympics are at stake, but it’s another thing to extend beyond that,” Beddoes said about China’s dedication to women’s hockey. “They’re showing that they’re serious about hockey and I hope we can achieve the end result and win the tournament.”
“It would be huge,” Lin said about advancement. “I think it would mean a lot to Chinese hockey. We’ve been working really hard every year and it just goes to show what the past four or five years have been about.”
All games of the tournament can be watched live and for free. Click here for the stream access.