An inspirational, patriotic fight song blared through the speakers as Moose Jaw’s Chinese community enthusiastically greeted their country’s sledge hockey team during a recent banquet.
Dozens of people filled the Jade Garden Restaurant on June 5 to celebrate China’s para hockey athletes and coaches, who finished fourth during this year’s World Para Hockey Championship at the Events Centre.
The Moose Jaw Chinese Community Network (MJCCN) organized the banquet, with MCs Kelvin Hu and Long Ning conducting the event almost entirely in Mandarin.
The duo introduced the team, welcomed dignitaries, and read a congratulatory letter from the People’s Republic of China’s Consulate General office in Calgary. Meanwhile, a picture slideshow featured players competing and fans cheering in the stands, a musician played a traditional handheld wind instrument, and prizes were given out.
With Hu translating, team manager Tang Nan said she was thankful to see so many people, including the co-chairs of the organizing committee, dignitaries, and residents from Moose Jaw and Regina.
The team has existed for roughly six years, and when it competed the first few years, it moved from the C pool to the B pool because of how well it did, she said. During one tournament, the team won five games and heard its national anthem played after each game, which was thrilling.
There were only a few fans in the stands during those early tournaments, but in Moose Jaw, hundreds of Chinese people cheered for the team.
“This is not a foreign country; we feel like we have come home,” Tang said.
The team is young, but that hasn’t prevented it from improving and moving into higher tournament brackets, including reaching the A pool this year, she continued. This achievement is connected to the fans’ support; during the first game, it was great to see Chinese flags and hear chants of “China, go!”
While the team lost the bronze medal game and didn’t hear its national anthem in the rink, outside the stadium, a fan played the anthem on his saxophone. Fans also mobbed the team and asked for autographs and pictures.
Another reason the team felt at home here was because a group of “beautiful ladies” kept everyone well-fed, Tang added. She joked that the team normally loses weight when playing overseas, but because of the women’s sumptuous food, each member likely gained three pounds in weight.
MJCCN president Hu later told the Express that the group had only a short time to put together the banquet.
“It’s always a Chinese tradition to actually put up some kind of banquet or family dinner whenever you have friends (or) relatives coming from afar,” he said. “So the moment we (knew) they are going to be here competing for the games and we’re saying, ‘Maybe we should put something together.’”
Hu was pleased with how the banquet turned out and the attendance.
Since sledge hockey is not well known in the Chinese community, few people initially responded to the MJCCN’s banquet invite. But as the tournament progressed and the team did well, residents learned more about the game — and banquet tickets began selling quickly.
“We sold out in no time. Even today, people were still asking if (we) still had more tickets,” he continued. “I said no, we cannot sell any more tickets because … we want to make sure we don’t make the banquet room crowded for (the players).”
Hu, his family, and other friends also volunteered to act as team hosts — and put in many hours of work. He was unsure he would have the energy on top of his daytime job, but everything worked out well.
The network president added that he was pleased with how the players performed and that they were the fourth-best team.
Heather Eby, tournament committee co-chair with Marcy Ramage, told the Express that the banquet was incredible, while it was amazing to see the Chinese culture, language, music and support for the players. She pointed out that the fans also treated the players like rock stars after the bronze medal game, which was heartwarming and special to see.