It hasn’t always been that close since the Chinese Kunlun Red Star club created a women’s team for the CWHL after it had hit headlines for a men’s team in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League.
The Chinese team, this season called KRS Vanke Rays, travels to North America for its away games while the other teams have one road trip per season to Shenzhen in southern China.
The Thunder are the defending Clarkson Cup Champions, and are one of six teams in the CWHL along with the Rays, Toronto Furies, les Canadiennes de Montréal, Calgary Inferno, and the Worcester Blades. Each of the five North American based teams takes one trip over to China to play the Rays in their home rink each season. Last year, the Thunder and Furies were the first teams to go to China, and played the Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays (the two China-based teams were merged in the off-season).
This year, Markham was the second team to head to China, a week after the Blades had their road trip. Because of the 4 Nations Cup, six players joined a day later – Olympians Jocelyne Larocque, Laura Fortino, Laura Stacey, along with Jamie Lee Rattray, and Victoria Bach for Canada, and Olympian Megan Bozek for the United States – but they were still able to soak in what Shenzhen had to offer. They just had some extra hardware in tow.
The team explored Shenzhen and nearby Hong Kong over the seven-day trip. From riding the subway, to shopping trips to the markets, and ordering food, both those who were experiencing China for the first time and those who were there for a second time, took in all the experiences.
Some picked up custom pieces of art or calligraphy, while others purchased pottery or picked out already framed paintings. Kristen Richards and Alexis Woloschuk even got in on the painting action, learning from artists outside their shops. “They were all so talented,” remembers Thunder captain Jocelyne Larocque, “I loved being able to see the culture there. It was my favourite outing!”
Another day saw the team venture to the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden, and paying a visit to the Hongfa Temple. “It was beautiful – nature and culture together,” says Forfar. “The area was so green it was almost like the park was cheering for the Thunder!”
When it came time to play hockey, the fans in the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center were ready to cheer. “The drum would start up whenever the Rays were in our zone, and you could hear the crowd get excited,” explained Forfar. Gribbons added, “Every shot the Rays took you heard the ‘Oooohs’ roll through the crowd.”
“It was an amazing trip to play hockey on another continent and have the opportunity to become immersed in the culture and be together as a team,” Laura Fortino concluded. The planning is already underway for excursions so the team can experience even more in China next season!
Watch the Funda Travel Diaries video clubs from this season’s trip to China here.