The International Ice Hockey Federation council met this week and determined that the Chinese men’s hockey team will remain in the 2022 Olympic tournament.
There was concern that historic blowouts could be embarrassing given that China, 32nd in the IIHF rankings, is in a group with Canada, Germany, and the United States. But after several meetings in the fall, and even a pair of test games against KHL opponents last month, the host country will have a team to cheer on.
China was automatically entered into the tournament as the host nation, a tradition that began with the 2006 Turin Games.
The IIHF was ready to use Norway, which fell short during final qualification in August, as a “Plan B” if China was removed.
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Now that NHL players will be participating for the first time since 2014, the scores could get ugly. The Chinese Ice Hockey Associated has been using North American players, such as Spencer Foo, Brandon Yip, and Ryan Sproul, among others, on its roster. Some players have ties to China while others were naturalized after signing with Kunlun Red Star of the KHL.
“Obviously when you look at our teams on paper, it’s a big discrepancy,” the 36-year old Yip told the Associated Press last month. “We obviously know what we’re up against. They’re the best players in the world, so we’ve got a big task in front of us.”
The expectation, like when the Olympics were held in Pyeongchang, is that the success of the tournament will inspire growth of the game in China. South Korea’s men’s team went 0-3-0 and scored one goal against Canada, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland in 2018, but saw player registrations increase year-to-year in the lead up to the event.
It may take time, but having a Chinese men’s team participate in the Olympics could be impactful for the sport in the country.
Said Yip to the AP: “If I’m sitting on the couch 20 years from now and I flip on the TV and you see a Chinese national player getting drafted in the first round or the Chinese men’s hockey team in the Olympics again, and they interview one of those players: ‘Why did you get into hockey?’ And they said, ‘I watched the Chinese national team in Beijing in 2022 and that inspired me’ — that would be really what success is determined by this whole experience.”
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Olympic men’s tournament groups
Group A: Canada, U.S., Germany, China
Group B: ROC, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia
• Men’s and women’s schedules can be found here.
The 2022 Olympic Games from Beijing, China will air on the networks of NBC beginning Friday, Feb. 4.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.