Ice hockey legend Gretzky joins Chinese team Kunlun Red Star as ambassador

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Ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky will help China develop the sport ahead of Beijing 2022.

The Canadian has signed on with China’s only professional team, Kunlun Red Star, as the club’s global ambassador.

Part of that agreement sees the ‘Great One’ involved in a programme to run hockey schools in the country.

China will make its Olympic ice hockey debut in four years’ time.

Youth development

Gretzky played 20 years in the National Hockey League, winning four Stanley Cups.

He was also part of Canada’s squad at Nagano 1998, the first Olympic Games to involve NHL players.

Gretzky was later general manager of the Canadian Olympic champion squad at Salt Lake City 2002.

In addition, he was also the final torchbearer at Vancouver 2010, lighting the outdoor cauldron in the city.

The great will lend his name to the KRS–Gretzky Hockey School, which Red Star will open in Beijing and the southern city of Shenzhen.

There are plans to expand the programme across China, with up to 20 locations expected in the next five years.

Kunlun Red Star, who play in the Chinese capital, compete in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League.

The team’s executive director, Ao Meng, told China Daily that Gretzky’s involvement will provide a big lift for Chinese ice hockey.

“To now have him part of the growth of hockey in China in the buildup to the 2022 Winter Olympics will promote interest and participation in the sport, especially among young people.”

Red Star’s roster includes a number of Canadian and American-born players of Chinese origin.

However, there are few local players currently challenging for a starting position.

Defenceman Zach Yuen, who is originally from Vancouver, told the Olympic Channel in 2017: “The number one thing right now is we really need to get the sport out there.

“A lot of people don’t know what the sport is.”

Room for improvement

As hosts, China are guaranteed a spot in the ice hockey tournaments at Beijing 2022.

But last year, the men’s national team failed to score a single goal at the Asian Winter Games.

They went 0–3 and conceded 32 goals in their three games.

Gretzky hopes to change that.

He will visit Beijing, Shenzhen, and Shanghai from 12–18 September, a chance for the 57-year-old to get to grips with the country.

“I’m excited to make my first trip to China next month and partner with Kunlun Red Star to grow this wonderful game. I’m looking forward to seeing more and more young players take part in the sport.”

Ao Meng from the Kunlun Red Star is similarly positive about the impact the Hall of Famer can make.

“Having Wayne Gretzky on board is a tremendous boost for hockey in China,” he said to China Daily.

“His contribution to the game is incalculable.”

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Author: ZK Goh
Olympic Channel news producer/reporter. All-round sports nerd.