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YWAM Canada News

October 2012 - YWAM Hockey's Summer in China

ChinaIt was a crisp and cool summer evening as I sat to dinner with Glen and Lorrain Bueckert at a restaurant with a stunning view of Stanley Park and Vancouver Harbor. As the sun set over the bay, casting garish orange and yellow hues across the horizon, Glen shared his vision with me to bring an HSOS team to China the following summer to put on a week-long North American style hockey camp there. It would be YWAM Hockey's first ever attempt to replicate its Canadian summer camp format in a foreign setting. As he explained his hopes for the possible venture, my heart started pounding in my chest and knew that somehow, I would be a part of it.

Twelve months and one week later I arrived at the Vancouver International Airport with Glen and two other coaches to begin our venture to China. Glen and I were joined by Hannah Goossen, 24, a goalie and alumnus of the 2012 Hockey DTS and Jen Derksen, 19, a Winkler, MB native and defenseman extraordinaire. We would fly 13 hours to Guangzhou and connect to our final destination, Harbin, where we would meet up with fellow YWAM Hockey Coaches Art and his son Evan Kung and Shaun Cormier.

However, our journey was delayed six hours thanks to Tropical Storm Vicente meaning we would miss our connection in Guangzhou and have to stay the night in a hotel there before connecting to Harbin. All in all the delays meant we arrived in Harbin just 40 minutes before the start of hockey camp.

Kid's Lining UpA representative of the Zun Guan Ice Hockey Club greeted us at the airport and managed to stuff us and all of our luggage (including all of Hannah's goalie pads) into a small SUV - although he did have to tie down the back hatch with a shoelace. Forty-minutes later we spilled out of the SUV onto the pavement in front of the rink and were greeted by a gaggle of hockey-stick-waving young boys. The rest of that day is just a blur in my memory, thanks to the lack of sleep and the jet lag from our travels. I just know there were a ton of kids on both ice sessions, and way more goalies than we expected. Once we finally wrapped up our ice sessions and walked to a nearby hotel for our supper I was doing everything in my power to keep my eyes open while I shoveled cold Chinese food into my mouth. But before bed we had to pick up some breakfast food from the grocery store across the street from our hotel.

Ice TimeThat simple task was much more complicated than it sounds. Everything was so foreign. All we wanted was something vaguely familiar to our Western senses to tide us over in the morning until our hot lunch. We wandered aisle after aisle not finding muffins or cereal or oatmeal or any sort of pastries.. We settled on some pears, some chocolate moon pies, and some vanilla wafer crackers.

We had to be on the ice at 6:30 a.m. for each day of camp, meaning we left our hotel at 5:45 a.m. sharp to walk to the rink. Jen and I led the younger group of kids. We had about 30 kids in our group from age 6 to 11. Art and Shaun led the older group with the help of Art's 11-year-old son, Evan. Hannah, and Glen stayed on the ice for all four ice sessions. Hannah had to work with 6 to 10 goalies each session, usually without the help of a fluent translator. Glen led all of the ice sessions along with our awesome translator, Jordan.

Both age groups rotated through two ice sessions, dryland, ball hockey and coaches talk each day. At the end of each day the head coach of the Zun Guan ice hockey program, Yin-Bin, would take us to dinner. At first we just ate at a hotel near the rink, but on one of the last nights Yin-Bin treated us to a dinner at his Uncle's famous Korean Barbeque restaurant. It was one of my highlights of the trip. We had no translator at that meal, but you don't need one when you're speaking primarily in laughter. Seriously, we laughed more than we talked at that dinner. The waiters brought out dish after dish of meats and spices and textures that I had never tasted before but each new one was better than the one that came before it. Yin-Bin's hospitality was over-the-top and when he realized we liked the flavor of the iced-tea he offered us he had one of the waiters run to the market on the corner and buy more for us. That meal was just the spark we needed to finish the camp strong.

The last day of camp was unforgettable. Jordan had to return to his home city for work the next day and we were afraid we wouldn't have a translator for the last coaches talk but thank the Lord one of our local coaches, an American named Mark, was able to find a replacement translator.

At the last coaches talk I shared my story with the kids, telling them about how I ended up at the NHL and also what I'm all about. Shaun also shared his story and then Art wrapped up his week of talks with the theme of character.

The last coaches talk was followed by final ice times. They were light-hearted but also fast paced. It was clear that the kids had improved over the week and they were able to keep up the quick pace of our final practice. We wrapped it up with shoot outs. First the kids, and then the coaches. They lauded us along as we took turns trying our flashiest moves. Everyone was most impressed with Jens' bar-down shot I think.

Great Wall

Saying goodbye to the kids was harder than I thought it would be. From teaching them how to high-five and say "Wussup?" to reminding them to bend their knees and keep their heads up on the ice, we had formed relationships with the 30 kids in our group and I hoped that we had somehow made a difference in their lives.

We spent one day in Harbin as tourists, we all got sick, we took an 8-hour train ride to Beijing short one seat, and we spent three days seeing the sites in Beijing. Those things were fun and definitely part of the adventure, but the camp itself was the reason we had come to China and by far the best part of the trip for all of us.

By Debs Francisco, NHL.com staff writer

Debs Francisco is a staff writer and producer for NHL.com where she writes about the draft and youth hockey skills as well as coordinating content with all 30 NHL clubs on a nightly basis. She resides in New York City where she is a head coach with Ice Hockey in Harlem, part of the NHL's diversity hockey program. She also volunteers with YWAM Hockey's summer camps every summer. 

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