By Cody Stephenson
It was 6:30 in the morning today when I heard my alarm rang to tell me it was time to get ready to go down for breakfast. Our earliest wake up call so far had the boys and Leanne dragging their feet down the questionable Super 8 stairwell and out into the smog to make our way around the hotel/rink building to the dining room. It's a bit of a peculiar setting but the “Original Six” would tell you it beats the setup from Elektranei, Lithuania. It is common to hear mumbles of comparison of the Baltic Tour of 2013-2014 to our current Goodwill China Tour. This being said, nothing can compare to the experience that we are getting in Beijing. We had all heard about the problem of pollution in China's capital city and I'm sure you have too, but to be here in the midst of it really is incredible. After breakfast we loaded the bus and began an hour long drive through the city to Hope International School. On the way there, the thickness of the smog was like it was straight out of a movie. Like I said, we had heard about it, but to be on a bus driving through the heart of it and not being able to see more than 100 meters (give or take) down the road was eye opening.
Our eyes remained open when we arrived at our destination but our breathing holes were closed as we donned our masks before stepping outside. We made our way into the school building and wove a path right to the gymnasium where the students of the school, high school aged in this case, were gathering for a morning assembly. To start their school day, the assembly began with some worship songs. Hope International is one of the only Christian schools in Beijing and like the Canadian International School of Beijing (CIS), it contains a very diverse student body. Following some introductions, coach Barret explained a little bit about TWU in front of the school and three of our players got up and told everyone in the gymnasium what going to TWU meant to them. Karsten Seidel, Stefan Gonzalez and Dawson Sawatzky all shared with everyone how Trinity Western has impacted their lives. Immediately following their short testimonies, another presentation was given to promote TWU to the students of Hope International. It was great stuff.
At the conclusion of the morning assembly, our group collected themselves and meandered back to the bus which was to take us to Tiananmen Square and then to the Pearl Market. Upon our arrival at Tiananmen Square, our new tour guide named Dennis took the lead and directed us through the masses of people and into the centre of the square where we took a group photo. Thirty white people posing for a picture sure does attract a crowd and before we knew it, our picture was being taken by dozens of random Chinese people and some of them were even brave enough to invite themselves into our picture. In the name of creating memories, we graciously stood there, posing for much longer than we had planned on. Once this fiasco was finished, we had a bit of time to take our own pictures. Not everything is picture worthy when storage on your phone is tight, but this place was. Surrounding the massive square were all kinds of enormous buildings including the Chinese parliament buildings and the entrance to the Imperial City. Although there was much to see, we did not stay too long before we were back on the bus and headed to the Pearl Market.
The first order of business was to fill our bellies and what better place to do that than underneath the Golden Arches. So McDonald's it was to fuel up for an afternoon of searching and bartering for everything from pearls to baseball jerseys. It was a learning process from the start of our time in the market, but a quick one. It did not take long for deals to be made and desired items to be found. Some of us came with a list of items they would like to barter for while others such as myself were more or less just wandering. A lot of guys did really well and ended up with some great stuff for unheard of prices. For any of you who have ever been to the Pearl Market, you know what a different shopping experience it is than walking into Sport Chek at Willowbrook or Guildford Mall. However, we made ourselves at home and bartered until our feet were sore. Beats headphones were a popular sell amongst our group, as we're smaller items that many will be bringing home to friends, family and girlfriends as gifts. Anyways, we had a good time and saved money by buying things that we wouldn't normally buy for cheaper than they normally sell for...or something like that.
On our way back to the hotel we were joined on the bus by a Chinese man named Peter who works doing sports ministry here in China. He came and had dinner with us at the hotel and after the meal he shared his testimony with us. As intriguing as it was listening to his story, we didn't have a lot of time to think on it since soon it would be time to put together our game faces, grab our hockey gear and get set for the big game. This would be our first game in China played indoors and as such, we were able to at least somewhat follow our normal pregame routines. Of course there was a lot of sewer ball to catch up on and sticks to be taped so we wasted very little time and got right to it. Soon enough, it was time to gear up and head out onto the ice. That glorious Olympic sized ice, 200 feet by 100 feet with sturdy boards and glass all the way around the rink. Our skates were freshly sharpened and there were even a few warm up tunes played for our pump up needs. For this game, five of our players were loaned to the same Chinese squad that we faced back in Chengde. Brett Wur, Andrew Wheeler, Riley Schmitt, Joe Sylvain and Ryan Scott all pulled over the blue Chinese uniforms and warmed up on the opposite side of the ice.
After a quick ice clean, we came out for the first period and were greeted by some of the students of CIS and Hope International in the crowd. Along with the students, the crowd consisted of 10 TWU alumni, some of them flying in to Beijing from other parts of China just to watch us play. It was an exciting environment to play in and especially so because it was our first game on a real rink since early December. That being said, we got off to a bit of a sluggish start and found ourselves down 1-0 in the first period. Eventually we battled back into the game and I was able to even the score courtesy of a beautiful cross ice pass from 4th-year defensemen Stefan Gonzalez. From here, we continued to fill the net. Goals from Flo Niedermaier, Aaron Gruenhage and Jamey Kreller built us a commanding 4-1 lead. The Chinese did not go away easy though and before we knew it, it was a 4-4 tie, headlined by a heavy wrist shot hitting the top corner from Brett Wur. The Spartans wearing Chinese colours played an integral role in keeping the game even and eventually the buzzer sounded and the game went to a shootout. It took nine rounds of shooters to decide the winner and with a skillful play by a Chinese forward, the puck slid through Silas Matthys and the decision was given to the Chinese. In the spirit of Goodwill, we graciously accepted the loss and proceeded to pose for pictures on the ice with the opposing team and many of the fans that were able to come out. Once the flashes died down, we quickly got changed and had some pizza in the dining room with the Chinese team. This was also a bit of a celebration for one of the Chinese players who is also acting as one of our translators on our tour. Leo, who we have grown quite fond of, was turning 18 today.
Soon, our stomachs were full and our eyelids were getting heavy so we began to make our way back to our rooms to recharge for the next day. There was slight disappointment at our first overseas loss as there should be, but we all realize there are more important things to worry about. Our competitive nature feeds our desire to win every game and the same can be said for every team we face. There is surely a sense of accomplishment on the Chinese side of the game as they beat “the Canadians.” It is our duty as Canadians and as representatives of TWU to provide the best example for growing hockey programs such as those we are facing in China. We are here to build connections and make a difference. The result on the scoreboard does not dictate success on this trip. Stay tuned.
DAY EIGHT BLOG | SPARTANS MEN'S HOCKEY GOODWILL CHINA TOUR
By Cody Stephenson