Last summer, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announced that not one but two Chinese teams would join its ranks, based out of Shenzhen, but playing the majority of its games in North America, while also hosting games in China. The investment from the Kunlun Group, which also runs a men’s team in Russia’s KHL as well as other teams, meant that CWHL players were paid for the first time in their history.
Coached by legendary women’s hockey coach Digit Murphy, Kunlun Red Star lost in overtime in the season-ending Clarkson Cup final, while the Vanke Rays also performed well in their debut season, narrowly missing out on the playoffs. Each team iced six foreign imports – known as player ambassadors – throughout the season with the rest of the roster spots filled by Chinese players. Those two sets of Chinese skaters have now joined forces to represent their country at the World Championship (Division 1, Group B) in Asiago, Italy, in what marks the first real test of China’s ice hockey revolution in the build-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2022. Ahead of the team’s first game, China Sports Insider spoke to Coach Murphy to get her thoughts.
China Sports Insider: You’ve been coaching in China for about a year now, both with Kunlun Red Star in the CWHL, as well as overseeing the national team squad. How has the progress of the Chinese players been?
Digit Murphy: It’s been amazing. Every day our players get better. Our model has been to use player ambassadors. For many of the players it’s been the first time that they’ve played this style of hockey, and when you play this style of hockey, you make a lot of mistakes, because you take a lot of chances. What we’re going to try and do is minimize those mistakes and find opportunities to score more goals. If you look at China’s performance historically, they haven’t scored a lot of goals, so that was one of the core foundations that we wanted to work on with these players. We’ve used a lot of the Canadian/American development model, so let’s see if it works!
CSI: The Chinese players have been learning all season from their six international teammates, but are now on their own for the first time. What will be their biggest challenge in making that adjustment?