For just the second time in 14 years, the Olympic games will be headed to Beijing, China. But this time, it’s for the Winter event, meaning hockey will be on the docket in the non-traditional hockey market.
In a secret vote by the International Olympic Committee on Friday morning, voters chose Beijing as the host city in a 44-40 decision over Almaty, Kazakhstan. With an estimated population of 1.357 billion in China, Beijing seemed like the favourite choice heading into the decision, with the city eventually winning out.
So what does this mean for hockey? Of course, there may not actually be any NHLers heading out there. With so much hesitation about whether to go to South Korea or not, China’s situation is quite similar, maybe even worse. While South Korea, who already earned a berth into the 2018 hockey tournament, is 23rd, China currently sits at 38th place in the rankings, good enough for Division IIA. Kazakhstan, however, will return to the top division of the 2016 World Championships thanks to their undefeated record at the most recent Division IA tournament, putting them in 17th place overall.
2015 was a year to get excited for if you’re a Chinese hockey fan. In January, Qing Liu scored two goals in the final game against New Zealand to help the Under-20 team secure a gold medal at the Division III World Juniors, the lowest event out of all of them. In April, China won promotion to Division IIA after a perfect tournament at the IIB event in South Africa this year.
China also had it’s first player drafted into the NHL this past June. Andong Song, who moved to Oakville, Ontario, Canada at the age of 10, was selected by the New York Islanders in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft. A member of China’s U18 World Junior team, Song has played in two Division IIB tournaments to date, even captaining the team in the most recent edition. He’s spent three seasons with Lawrence Academy of the United States High School league, putting up 21 points in 67 games over that span.
Unlike with South Korea, it’s unlikely that China will earn an automatic berth into the Olympics. South Korea will likely have a rough time in 2018, coming in as one of the lowest ranked teams to hit the ice at the Olympics. China does have a long time before they host the tournament, but it’s unlikely they’ll move up high enough after multiple years in the second lowest division. The women’s team could be a possible candidate to participate, as their 16th place ranking right now gives them a bit of room to grow if they want to move up the rankings.
Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.