In China trip, Vail International Hockey witnesses Beijing’s investment in sport as Olympics loom
The Vail International Hockey program visited China from Dec. 18 to Jan. 3, witnessing the impressive charge the country has made to grow the game of hockey in the city of Beijing.
Just six years ago, Beijing had six hockey rinks. There is now 30 rinks as the city prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Vail International Hockey was founded by longtime Eagle County local Merv Lapin in 1985. Lapin first visited China in 1977 and has continued to visit the country both on his own and with Vail International Hockey. Lapin himself has visited China more than 50 times.
Every three years, Vail International Hockey embarks on a cultural tour abroad; many of those trips have been to China. Providing a global prospective, assistance in creating culturally sensitive Americans and sharing in the love of the sport of hockey is the organization’s mission.
Vail International Hockey Director Eric Eves said the organization is confident that China’s new interest in hockey will change the sport.
“China as a whole is changing rapidly and we have been blown away by the progress since our last visit,” Eves said. “The Chinese government is putting a great amount of resources into hockey development in anticipation of the 2022 Olympics, hiring Wayne Gretzky as its global ambassador and bringing NHL games to China.”
Vail International Hockey brought 36 people to China this year — two teams of players 13-17 years old, 15 adult chaperones, a doctor and three coaches.
The group traveled through six cities, where they played USA Hockey-sanctioned exhibition games, participated in training sessions and learned about Chinese history and local culture.
“Once we all got on the ice and started playing all the differences between people went away,” said 13-year-old Keegan Collins. “It didn’t matter if we were American or Chinese — we were all just one people playing hockey.”
Eves described the trip as a true jet setting adventure.
“The teams have played games in Shanghai, Harbin, Jilin and Beijing, China,” he said. “Cultural highlights have included a visit to the 120th floor of the Shanghai Tower, a night cruise on the Huangpu River to view the impressive lit up skyscrapers in Pudong, a all day river cruise on the Li River, a visit to the terracotta warriors in Xi’an, a -20 below visit to the world famous Harbin Ice festival, a hike on the Great Wall of China and tours to Tiananmen Square, the temple of heaven and the forbidden city in Beijing.”
The group visited eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites and enjoyed many cultural experiences along the way.
“One highlight for me has been the meals,” said coach Robbie Giardino. “We have enjoyed Peking duck, Szechwan specialties, table side noddle shows, Mongolian BBQ, dumpling making classes and multiple hot pot banquets. Everyone has become an expert in using chopsticks.”
All in all, the group took a total of 10 flights, two boat trips and a high-speed train ride; they then traveled by bus within the six cities they visited.
“A good attitude, an open mind and comfortable shoes have been a must,” said parent Emily Large.
Eves said in seeing first hand China’s recent technological advancements — especially in high speed trains, electric vehicles and renewable energy — it was obvious that China will continue to influence the world in the years to come.
“The living standard in China has greatly increased, Wi-Fi everywhere, everyone on smart phones, clean bathrooms and an impressive amount of wealth,” Eves said. “Our up close interaction with the Chinese life in six very different cities left us certain we must embrace the Chinese and work together in trade, avoid political confrontation and collaborate as top global influencers.”
Peter Janes, the team’s doctor said he has enjoyed watching China evolve over his many trips there with Vail International Hockey.
“They’ve went from bicycles to motorcycles to cars to BMWs, Mercedes and Range Rovers,” Janes said.
“Their airports make DIA look like Fargo International, and their trains travel at 190 miles per hour,” Janes added. “We need to be mindful and embrace the changes, most of which the USA does not have a clue about, actually.”
Vail International Hockey founder Merv Lapin has long maintained the belief that China will be the most important country in Americans’ futures.
Eves said Vail International Hockey enjoyed an especially warm reception in Jilin — a industrial city to the north of North Korea — where Lapin coached hockey for three years in the ’80s. Lapin also brought the Jilin team to Vail for the International Hockey Tournament in the early ’90s.
“The players, chaperones and coaches were treated like VIPs while in Jilin,” Eves said. “It was amazing to practice and play in a modern and large NHL-style arena that was built within the last two years.”
Lapin said once again the group fulfilled the vision of why Vail International Hockey was created.
“It’s been one amazing journey and all should be proud of how these young hockey players have shared the game, shown respect, gratitude and excitement with the Chinese players,” Lapin said.