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Victoria Grizzlies’ Eddie Yan plays captain for China

Victoria Grizzlies forward Eddie Yan will captain China in the IIHF Division III world junior tournament Jan. 14-20 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Photograph By DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
JANUARY 5, 2019 10:09 PM

As Kazakhstan’s quirky but popular run through Pool B at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in the 2019 IIHF world junior hockey tournament demonstrated, some of the best stories in international sport are found in the lower depths of the standings.

As Island fans took to the Kazakhstan hockey team, so too might Canada find itself a curiosity piece in events such as the cricket or handball World Cups. Who can forget how the Kiwi fans delightfully reacted to the Langford-based Canadian Beardos in the 2011 rugby World Cup?

China and hockey don’t exactly go together, either. But as host of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the nation is working on an expedited timetable to put together a host hockey team. Part of that includes developing junior talent, such as forward Eddie Yan of the Victoria Grizzlies, with the potential to move up to the Olympic team.

Yan will captain China in the IIHF Division III world junior tournament Jan. 14-20 in Reykjavik, Iceland. Other national sides at this U-20 level include New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. While that would make for a killer rugby tournament, it’s an unlikely grouping for ice hockey. The Division III level also includes Turkey, Taiwan and Bulgaria.

The tournament champion will be promoted to Division II-B next year against the likes of Israel, Mexico, Spain, Netherlands and Croatia. That would make for a great soccer tournament, but ice hockey? The next step beyond is Division II-A, which contains Great Britain, Belgium, South Korea, Estonia, Romania and Lithuania.

Division 1-B includes the likes of Slovenia, Poland and Ukraine. Division 1-A, and somewhat decent hockey nations such as Belarus and Latvia, is another step yet. And from down in Division III where Yan is, you would need the Hubble Telescope to see the elite division with Canada, Sweden, Finland, U.S., Russia and the Czech Republic.

The 18-year-old Yan has avidly watched that top division in the IIHF world junior tournament perform in his Victoria and Vancouver backyard the past three weeks, albeit in glimpses on TV. It fires the imagination.

“We’re trying to build a really good team for the Olympics,” said Yan.

“We’ve got some players in the VHL [league below the KHL in Russia]. I’ve played for China in U-18 so I’ve been in the system. That will help for the future and in [his dream of representing his native country in the 2022 Winter Olympics].”

So too has helped playing on a Grizzlies team in the B.C. Hockey League that includes 2019 NHL draft-projected players Alex Campbell and Alex Newhook, the latter expected to go in the first round.

“They’ve brought a lot of attention to our team,” said the fleet-skating Yan, who has four goals and eight points in 30 games in his rookie season with the Grizzlies.

“The ability and skill on this Grizzlies team is amazing and I’ve learned a lot. That confidence will help me at the national-team level.”

The five-foot-11, 180-pound Yan was born in Beijing and came to Toronto at age nine and was recruited out of Upper Canada College by the Grizzlies.

There weren’t many rinks in Beijing when he was growing up. Yan was in one of the few, watching sister Emily figure skate, when he noticed a kiosk renting hockey skates. He took it from there.

Yan recalls being eight years old and watching Lionel Messi score for Argentina in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Now he continues in his own quest to march into Bird’s Nest Stadium for the opening ceremony of the Winter Games in 2022. Via Iceland, to which he departs Monday.

“I don’t talk too much, but I will try to lead by example,” Yan said, about his role as Chinese junior national team captain.

ICE CHIPS: Yan and the Island Division-leading Grizzlies (24-12-2) meet the overall BCHL-leading Prince George Spruce Kings (25-9-4) in what should be a revealing matinée showdown today at 2 p.m. in the Q Centre.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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