China has over 1.3 billion inhabitants as the world’s most populous nation, but only 150 of them are registered female hockey players. Currently eighth in the IIHF World Rankings, China’s national team is based in the northern city of Harbin, and each player receives a monthly salary of between 300 and 800 yuan ($45 and $120 CDN). The country’s glory days came in the 1990’s, as it ranked fourth at the 19 IIHF World Women’s Championships and the 1998 Olympics. However, time has not been kind to China. Since then, it has mostly finished sixth or seventh in IIHF competitions. As well, the Chinese did not qualify for the 2006 Olympics held in Turin due to a bitter defeat against Switzerland. More recently, at the 6th Asian Winter Games in Changchun, Team China took a tumble again with a third-place result, outstripped by Japan and Kazakhstan. However, this young team (featuring six teenagers) is back to try its luck again in Winnipeg. They’re hoping a 12-game stint in the Finnish League this season may have honed their skills to new levels.
Coaching: A fairly new coaching staff is running Team China at this tournament. Jorma Siitarinen, head coach since 2006, hails from Finland and he’s the fourth foreign bench boss the team has had. The Helsinki native has plenty of men’s hockey coaching experience: he most recently oversaw Salzburg EC in the Austrian League in 2004/2005, and worked in German hockey hotbeds like Frankfurt and Iserlohn starting in the early 1980’s. Liu Qun and Ji Weiguang will serve as his assistant coaches.
Goal: Lina Huo has suited up for Team China since 1994. Playing as a back-up goalie for the most part, Huo’s most remarkable outing came at the 2005 IIHF World Women’s Championship in Sweden. China ranked third in goaltending that year thanks to her .909 save percentage, as she made 191 saves in total. Although China lost 8-2 to the USA in its tournament opener, Huo made an eye-popping 71 saves. We won’t see Hong Guo, the legendary former Chinese netminder, in Winnipeg, but perhaps Lina Huo will prove to be the next “Great Wall of China.” (Hong Guo, who is now retired, played with Team China from 19.) Yao Shi, 19, will serve as the backup.
Defence: Xueting Qi was China’s best defender at the 2005 World Women’s Championship, and is one to watch this year. She has played with Team China since 2004 and will be looking for her first point in IIHF competition in Winnipeg after picking up seven points in 12 games in Finland this year. The Chinese have been training hard, but will their blueline corps be cohesive enough to improve on 2005’s results, when they allowed 19 goals in five games?
Forward: Since 1999, Rui Sun has been playing with Team China. She has tallied four points at all but one of the last five IIHF tournaments in which her country has taken part. She was easily China’s most impressive offensive player in Finland this year, scoring 17 goals in 12 games, a pace that would have enabled her to beat out Karoliina Rantamaki as the league’s best shooter if she’d played a full 22-game slate. Linuo Wang and Jing Fengling also bring good offensive upsides, and Ben Zhang is another name to watch.
Projected Results: China’s results haven’t been too great since the 1990’s, but it’s nice to see the national team hasn’t given up. Realistically, China has no hope of winning a medal in Winnipeg, but will look to put up a good fight against the likes of Switzerland and Kazakhstan. The 2007 IIHF World Women’s Championship will be a good development tool for the Asian giant’s hockey future.