Holding on to the Olympic dream
by Lucas Aykroyd|17 SEP 2020
Xueting Qi played in nine IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship tournaments and hopes to play her second Olympics after Vancouver 2010 in Beijing 2022.
photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
Canadian fans still smile nostalgically whenever their nation’s double gold-medal performance in men’s and women’s hockey at the 2010 Olympics on home ice comes up. Even though China finished seventh out of eight women’s teams in Vancouver, defender Xueting Qi has her own fond memories of her first and only Olympics.

“Wow, that was a really big party for me!” Qi, 33, told IIHF.com. “When I came to the Olympic Village, every day I would go out for a walk. The fans were really passionate. Whenever we walked on the streets, some people would come to us and say: ‘Are you athletes?’ We’d say, ‘Yes.’ ‘What sport?’ When we said, ‘Ice hockey,’ then they really, really loved it! Also, when we played games, most of the fans cheered for us. Everything for me was new. It was the first time. So I really enjoyed that.”

Daily star sightings were also on the menu in British Columbia’s biggest city for Qi.

“When we ate together, I was really close to some NHL stars like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. That was the first time we were really close to them. To see them, we felt really good. Also, we traded a lot of pins!”

More than 10 years later, Qi has pinned her hopes on making the Olympic team again so that she can compete on home ice in Beijing in 2022. Nicknamed “Snow” by her international pro teammates with the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, the Harbin native is one of several 2010 alumni who made a comeback last season to chase her Winter Games dreams.

Qi hadn’t played since the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B tournament, where the hosts came third in Beijing. However, she didn’t miss a beat after spending the previous two seasons as an assistant coach with the women’s U18 program.
The last time Xueting Qi (second from left) played for the Chinese women’s national team was on home ice in Beijing at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B.
photo: CIHA
The right-shooting blueliner, who wears #55, earned a goal and 12 assists in 27 regular season games with the star-studded Rays. The club, based in Shenzhen in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, was competing in its first season in the Russian Women’s Hockey League (WHL) under new coach Brian Idalski (ex-University of North Dakota).

“I think after my coaching experience, I’m more clear in my head,” Qi said. “I can read the situation better. Before I was a coach, I always thought about myself – my position, my situation. But after coaching, I can think about the whole team, the whole situation. It’s easier to understand what the coach says, and I can help the coach help the players.”

Impressively, “Snow” captained her team to the WHL championship. Despite spending weeks on the road due to the COVID-19 outbreak that hit China earlier than Russia, the Rays swept host Agidel Ufa in three straight games in the final in March. It was an upgrade over the club’s experience in the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), where they lost the 2018 final in overtime to the Markham Thunder on Laura Stacey’s goal.
Xueting Qi celebrates with her teammates in the dressing room after winning Russia’s Women’s Hockey League.
photo: Svetlana Sadykova / WHL
“For me, it’s amazing memories and a really great experience,” Qi said. “Before, we didn’t have a professional league like this. This year, we became champions and we celebrated in the dressing room. Also, during the season, we had the All-Star Game [in Moscow on 12 January]. All those things for me were really awesome. I felt the system in this league is really good. You can play younger players against more experienced players. In China, we don’t have that. It was really excellent.”

On 19 September, the new WHL season kicks off with a rematch between Agidel Ufa and the Rays, who will be based in the Moscow area this season same as the men’s team in the KHL. Naturally, the coronavirus situation injects uncertainty into everyone’s plans. For Qi, relying on her mother’s strength and wisdom is particularly valuable in these strange times.

“My mom always supports me,” Qi said. “At the beginning, she didn’t really like me playing ice hockey. But when I played sports in school, she was just 100 percent for me. In China, she’s always with me, watching me play games, even in different cities. Sometimes when I was confused or something came up that I couldn’t handle, she always stood on my side and communicated with me. She always gave me advice and helped me to make some great decisions.”
Xueting Qi's road to professional ice hockey
Qi Xueting "Snow" began playing hockey in the Chinese winter sports capital of Harbin, China. When she was growing up, she could never have imagined an opportunity to play professional women's hockey at home. Snow sat down with Gillian Kemmerer ahead of Game 3 of the WHL Finals in Ufa, Russia. Video by Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays
CHN 15 SEP 2020
Qi also appreciates the professionalism of Rays teammates like Finnish goalie Noora Raty, a four-time Olympian, and 2020 WHL scoring champion Alex Carpenter, who signed a one-year deal in early August to return to the KRS organization for a fourth straight season. And Qi doesn’t hesitate when asked to name her Chinese hockey role models.

“My former captain [Linuo Wang]. She’s seven years older than me. She wore number 19 when she played on the national team. She played at the 2002 Olympic Games and the 2010 Olympic Games. And number 14 [Rui Sun]. When she retired, she also became one of my coaches.”

Qi gained valuable experience from her five top-level Women’s Worlds between 2004 and 2009. Interestingly, her tournament debut came in 2004 in Halifax. The hockey-crazed Nova Scotia capital will co-host the 2021 Women’s Worlds with Truro. Those two cities were originally supposed to host this year’s tournament, but the pandemic unfortunately led to its cancellation.

Hockey has helped Qi hone her English language skills: “I learned mainly just from coaches. We’ve had maybe more than 10 foreign coaches.” With the national team, she got opportunities to practice English while travelling and competing in Finland and Canada in the mid-2000s.
Last season in Shenzhen, the Rays frequently attracted home crowds of more than 3,000. The Chinese Olympic team will hope to attract even bigger audiences to Beijing’s renovated Wukesong Arena during the 2022 Olympics.

The whole world has a lot of work to do before China can host its first Winter Games. Qi doesn’t know whether she’ll get to see Crosby and Ovechkin again in person. The final makeup of the Chinese Olympic team – which will include naturalized North American players of Chinese heritage as well as domestic-born and trained talent – remains unclear.

So “Snow” will simply train hard and play hard as the countdown continues. She always reminds herself about the three reasons behind her comeback as a player.

“First, I love hockey. It doesn’t matter how old I am. I really like to play during the games. So I can feel the passion. I enjoy being with my teammates, playing together. Second, in China, we have more younger players now. I want to show them: ‘If you love hockey, you have to play.’ Some of them think about other things. Third, I think if I can play, maybe it’s more helpful. I can teach other players when I’m a coach, but sometimes, maybe it’s better to teach as a player. That’s why I came back.”