Grit, sacrifice and opportunity. Ask any Olympic athlete what it takes to
reach the pinnacle of their sport and more times than not, those words are
Sean Wu has grit.
Sean Wu has sacrificed.
Sean Wu has opportunity.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The 16-year-old isn’t on China’s
men’s Olympic hockey team just yet.
Wu dreams of representing his country at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in
Beijing, especially because they’re playing out in his hometown, in his
home country. The Chinese national team knows firsthand of his talent and
determination; the hockey journey he’s been on for the past eight years is
a Disney movie in the making.
Wu began skating when he was five years old. Hockey wasn’t big in Beijing
at the time, but his friend Edward Yan played and the pair became hockey
obsessed. Yan came to Toronto a few years later to try out for a AAA team,
which he made. Wu followed in his footsteps, making the leap to the Toronto
Red Wings when he was eight. Every year since, Wu and his mother Yan Qin
Yan have moved to Toronto for the hockey season, and then back to Beijing
for the summer.
When Wu arrived eight years ago, he spoke so little English that sentences
were out of the question. Luckily, hockey is a universal language and it
helped he was between the pipes.
“The pace of the game was very different and the competition is definitely
better here,” says Wu, who comes in at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds. “As a
goalie, it was easier because there wasn’t as much communication needed.
All I really had to do was keep the puck out of the net.”
With his Toronto Young Nationals competing for a national title at the 2018
TELUS Cup, Wu remains focused on keeping the puck out of the net. He paired
with Elliott Tang to backstop the Young Nationals to a GTHL-best 25-4-4
regular-season record, thanks in part to their 1.73 goals-against average.
The Young Nationals followed up their regular season success with a 12-1-2
playoff run. Wu and Tang were again stifling in net with a 1.73 GAA,
limiting the opposition to 26 goals over 15 games.
According to Young Nationals head coach Brett Punchard, who met Wu two
years ago but knew of him long before that, the netminder is as liked as
anyone on the team and his occasional English hiccups are beloved by all.
“He’s been fantastic, he’s a pretty amazing kid,” says Punchard. “He had to
do a lot just to get here and he doesn’t take it for granted. He’s as
straight-laced as they come, he loves sports and loves talking sports with
the boys, and he’s a funny guy, the guys absolutely love him. He speaks
fluent English, but sometimes the grammar isn’t 100 per cent. Everyone gets
a kick out of it.”
Punchard also stressed that Wu’s got game.
“He’s an athlete. He’s a competitor. He’s tenacious. He’s quick. Square to
the puck. He needs to work on playing the puck, but it’ll come. He’s
phenomenal all-round and it’s just a great story.”
As much as Wu has made a name for himself within Toronto’s hockey
community, so too has his mom. While his dad Baohong runs a restaurant back
home, his mom moves back and forth with her son every year. Punchard said
she’s a regular at practices and games, often wrapped in a blanket, novel
“I don’t think she’s missed a practice in the last eight years,” adds Wu
proudly. “Without her, there’s no way I could be where I am today.”
It was difficult in the beginning, he explains. But while he made friends
at school and through hockey, his mom, who didn’t speak any English at
first, had to adapt to major culture shock. Now she blends right in,
helping her son live out his dream.
“She has put in a lot of work throughout the years and she’s sacrificing a
lot so I can be here,” said Wu. “But she’s strong and he’s helped me be
strong too. We have helped each other through this. There are a lot of
cultural differences here and we’ve experienced them together; when we
first came, seeing a snowstorm was a huge deal. Now it’s an everyday thing.
Same with the traffic, it’s a lot better here and we like that. It’s a lot
easier to get around to places.
“I don’t really know what to say, but there’s no way I could be here
Grit, sacrifice and opportunity. Wu has been grinding it out for eight
years and he’s come this far. He’s now on the Chinese national team’s radar
with the ultimate goal of representing his country in 2022.
Keep the puck out of the net and the sky’s the limit.