sean wu feature
Have pads, will travel
Born and raised in Beijing, Sean Wu crossed the Pacific to stop pucks and ended up with Olympic aspirations
Derek Jory
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April 25, 2018
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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 mentioned.

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 in hand.

“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 without her.”

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.

For more information:

Lisa Dornan
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 / 403-510-7046 (mobile)
ldornan@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Spencer Sharkey
Coordinator, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4567 / 905-906-5327 (mobile)
ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

 

Katie Macleod
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6427 / 403-612-2893 (mobile)
kmacleod@hockeycanada.ca

 

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