Friday, September 29, 2017
When Mercyhurst University women’s ice hockey coach Mike Sisti’s players take the ice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, they will go toe-to-toe with an unexpected competitor: Team China.
Team China’s Oct. 4-6 visit to Mercyhurst is part of China's efforts to expand women’s ice hockey participation and build a major contender before hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Sisti explained. And, he noted, the visit comes at a most opportune time as the kickoff to World Girls Ice Hockey Weekend and the Lakers home opener Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. against #6 ranked St. Lawrence University.
“We are eager to welcome Team China to Mercyhurst,” said Sisti. “Anything that heightens the visibility of women’s ice hockey globally, allows the game to grow, and gives talented players an opportunity to build their careers is a good thing.”
Team China comprises Chinese players from each of China’s two professional women’s hockey clubs: Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays, which also roster elite players from Europe and North America, including Mercyhurst alumna and former Lakers captain Emily Janiga.
Janiga lives in China and plays for Vanke Rays. She was selected by the Rays in the 2017 Canadian Women’s Hockey League draft. Last year, she played with the Isobel Cup champion Buffalo Beauts along with fellow Mercyhurst alumna and current Mercyhurst assistant women’s hockey coach Kelley Steadman.
Janiga returns to her alma mater with an entourage of approximately 60 players, coaches and staff of the two hockey clubs. Among the other U.S. schools represented on the teams are Cornell, Boston College, Brown University, Minnesota-Duluth, Dartmouth, Princeton and St. Lawrence University.
The two pro clubs, which will begin their tenure as members of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League next season, and the Team China contingent will train and play exhibition games this season. The regimen will allow the Chinese national team an opportunity to showcase their talents and be tested against tough competition. The games will be played against select Canadian Usport teams, National Women’s Hockey League teams, American and Canadian U-19 clubs, and NCAA Division I and II teams, which is where Mercyhurst gets the nod.
Preliminary plans call for the two Chinese professional teams to practice at the Mercyhurst Ice Center on Wednesday, Oct. 4, from 9:15 to 11 a.m. and again from 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. At 1:30 p.m., the players from Team China will scrimmage with the Lakers during their practice. On Thursday, Oct. 5, Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays will play each other at 10 a.m. These sessions are free and open to the public.
Then on Friday, Oct. 6, the teams from China will take to the stands of the Mercyhurst Ice Center to watch the Lakers’ home opener against St. Lawrence at 7 p.m. The teams will also be signing autographs as part of World Girls Ice Hockey Weekend.
The China teams depart on Saturday for Buffalo where they will play the Buffalo Beauts.