Feb, 2019- The Beijing Ice Hockey Association’s U12 girls’ team visited the National Sports Center for a week and a half long training camp.
While the team practiced with Rhonda Engelhardt, head coach of the Minnesota Whitecaps, it also battled five local teams within just nine days.
Ni Li, Minnesota resident and coordinator of the project, worked with the Beijing Ice Hockey Association, the National Sports Center and Engelhardt to make the training camp possible.
After connecting with the China national team project head Cindy Zheng, who visited in the National Sports center last September, Ni realized that a week and a half long training camp in Minnesota would expose the China U12 team to tough competition, a valuable learning experience and a new opportunity to bond as teammates.
According to Ni, the biggest challenge for the team is finding fair competition. “In China, we don’t have many players,” Ni said. “The most difficult thing for those girls is to find the teams to play.”
During the training camp, the China team played the Os 2008 Selects, Mounds View U12, Roseville/St Paul U12A, Roseville/St. Paul Red U12B and Blaine U12A.
In order to arrange the game schedule, Ni said she coordinated with Engelhardt by sending her videos of the China team before its arrival. That way, Engelhardt could appropriately set up games with local teams that play at a similar level.
While Ni expressed her excitement about the opportunity for the team, the players also lit up while talking about the experience.
12-year-old center Rachel explained how hockey is different in China as well as what she learned from her experience in Minnesota.
While Rachel mentioned that the periods are shorter and that the locker rooms are less extravagant in China, she also joked about having to sharpen her skates more often in Minnesota. “The ice is quite different from China because every time I come over I have to resharpen my skates or I start falling,” Rachel said.
When it comes to growing from her experience in Minnesota, Rachel said that learning from American teams is extremely valuable. “We definitely could team build and learn how the American girls play hockey,” Rachel said. “We could learn from them and gather experience so we can become better ourselves.”
13-year-old goalie Grace talked about how this experience will help her achieve her goals within the sport of hockey.
“I want to go to the Olympics someday,” Grace said. “Also, I want Chinese hockey to be stronger.”
Throughout their experience here, players learned new skills and ways to develop as hockey players from coach Engelhardt.
Grace expressed her appreciation toward Engelhart and mentioned that she is the best foreign coach she’s ever met. “She’s very kind, and she will explain everything very clear,” Grace said.
While the team took away lessons from Engelhart, she also grew from the experience.
“All the girls are great,” Engelhart said. “They seem to be eager to learn. They’ve been opening up and willing to listen and kind of do what I ask of them. So it’s been overall just a great experience and it’s been fun learning more about their culture.”
Engelhart mentioned that she loves being able to share what she knows about hockey and hopes the team can feel confident going into its next adventure.
Ni said that other youth China teams are already looking to participate in a similar experience at the National Sports Center and that while the China team loves the snow, the girls also love Minnesota culture and local people.
“I think a team leader said several other teams in China already tried to solicit for information,” Ni said. “I think more will come and I hope so…They loved the community, everything. They think that Minnesota people are great.”
The National Sports Center is proud to have hosted the Beijing Ice Hockey Association’s U12 girls’ team and would like to thank everyone involved in the project.