China’s National Men’s Hockey Team Given OK to Compete at Olympics

China’s HC Kunlun Red Star players are seen during the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) match against HC Amur Khabarovsk in Mytishchi, Moscow region, Russia November 15, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Many waited with bated breath as the IIHF was pondering what would happen to the host country of China when it came to the men’s Olympic ice hockey portion of the Games. There was doubt that they would be deemed ready to compete, as the team that was designated as the country’s representation– Kunlun Red Star– was getting sick pumped in the KHL with a 9-27 record and a minus-61 goal differential.

In addition to that, the Red Star roster is made up of a majority of North America players– which may not be a red flag to some, but when if they wanted to play in the Olympics; there’d be many hoops to jump through in order to be a nationalized citizen given China not recognizing dual citizen like Italy did in 2006 and South Korea did in 2018.

But worry not, the IIHF said that China is good to go for the Olympics and will have an easy group to play in with Germany, Canada, and the United States. Oops.

Okay, but just assume the NHL isn’t going to go. COVID running rampant through teams and tighter restrictions pending at the Olympic village (not to mention the diplomatic boycotts happening); it could be a photo finish to see if NHL players will actually attend these events or miss it for the second straight Games.

Even if the NHL doesn’t go, you have to wonder about China’s team against those nations with other players in tow. By and large, the non-NHL rosters that would goes against China could easily put a big number against them– Germany showed that in their silver medal result last Olympics. South Korea didn’t have to go against NHLers and they could only muster three goals through their round-robin and playoff matches– and they had a more developed hockey program than what the Chinese appear to have going for them.

Fun fact: In the last five Games, the host nations has made it past the Quarterfinals twice: USA in 2002 and Canada in 2010. Italy didn’t qualify in 2006, Russia lost to Finland in 2014, and South Korea lost in qualifications in 2018. China has a huge hill to climb in that and it may not look promising if they are going against more experienced pros.

That said, there’s always a chance for a Cinderella story. Stranger things have happened in the Olympics, especially in hockey. There’s always one team that comes out of nowhere to make it relatively deep in the playoffs. Belarus in 2002, Slovakia in 2010, Latvia in 2014, and Germany in 2018. On paper– they don’t seem to stand a chance. But to steal from Sportsnet’s Tim Micallef– the game isn’t played on paper, it’s played by little tiny people in our TV sets.