After striking out once again this year at the NBA Draft, Chinese sports fans were pleasantly surprised on Saturday when the New York Islanders selected Song Andong with the 172nd pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, making him the first Chinese-born player to be drafted in NHL history.
Song is a native Beijinger. He picked up the game by chance at a young age as a result of suffering from repeated sore throats. According to Sohu Sports, doctors told his parents to find some cool air for their son to breathe. They began bringing Song to the skating rink and later introduced him to the game of ice hockey. The rest is history.
Song’s family left China for Ontario when he was 10 years old to pursue their son’s hopes of hockey superstardom. Despite some initial skepticism, Song proved his skills at each level of competition. Currently, the 18-year-old attends the prestigious Lawrenceville prep school in New Jersey and is the assistant captain of the school’s hockey team. He also goes by the nickname “Misha,” according to ESPN.
Despite the foreign nickname, this pioneer hasn’t left his homeland behind. The defenseman captained China’s under-18 team that competed in the International Ice Hockey Federation II-B World Championships and with his draft selection he is becoming something like a star on the mainland. He’s already got that essential Chinese athlete lingo down at least:
“Being the first Chinese player, it’s a lot of pressure from people back home, but good pressure,” Song told CCTV. “I hope that will motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I’ll make them proud.”
While this all sounds like a decent sappy sports movie in the making, we have to admit to being a tad skeptical. A week before the draft, China Radio International broke the story that Song would be drafted. Song was chosen in the 6th round of the draft by the Islanders. The Isles owner Charles B. Wang was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with his family as a boy. Wang happens to be the only Chinese-born NHL owner and also happens to be the only owner who is running a program that trains young Chinese hockey players in Harbin, the hockey capital of China.
The NHL Draft was broadcast live in China on CCTV-5. Chinese media reports that some 2.5 million people watched the draft, though it’s not clear how many stayed tune for anything else other than the historic 172nd pick on the draft’s second day.
Meanwhile, China just so happens to be trying to land the 2022 Winter Olympics Games while also attempting to get its populace to care about winter sports through any means necessary. A Chinese-born player drafted into the NHL may just do something to boost hockey’s profile on the mainland (BTW. Here is the full extent of our coverage on hockey happenings in China). Across the entire country, there are a grand total of 610 registered hockey players. Earlier this month, China’s first class of hockey students graduated from the Sport University in Harbin. Behold, the future!
But if Song plays hockey as well as he answers questions, China hockey could actually be dangerous in a few years:
“When I started playing there weren’t a lot of people playing there and not much support for the game. But last year when I went back, it’d been like eight years since I’ve seen Chinese hockey, it’s just been tremendous how far they’ve grown. I’m sure they’ll keep trying to catch up to North America and Europe and Russia, but there’s still a little gap.”
Check out this first interview with China’s future Wayne Gretzky… or is it hockey’s future Yao Ming?
by Alex Linder
[Images via Sohu]