Islanders’ Song raises bar for Chinese hockey

He dominated the rinks in his home country China, moved to Canada to find better competition and now is honoured to be the first Chinese-born hockey player drafted in the NHL Draft, a huge moment for his place of birth.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Andong Song will be called a trailblazer. No matter what happens from here he will be remembered as the first Chinese player to be selected at the NHL draft.

But the 18-year-old, who speaks with a maturity that belies his age, didn’t want Saturday’s history-making moment to be about him.

“Hopefully, what I want to do is to really drive people behind me,” said Song, proudly sporting a New York Islanders sweater. “I’m really not focused on myself; I’m really trying to do something good for Chinese hockey.”

If he ends up playing in the NHL, his will be a story they end up making into a movie. Song took his first skating strides at age six on one of the two ice rinks they had in Beijing. As it turns out, it was more of a short-track speedskating oval than anything else.

“It wasn’t even like a full-sized NHL rink or anything,” said Song. “It was just sectioned off into parts of the ice. We skated and that’s how I started.”

The only reason his mother enrolled him in the sport is because he kept getting sick as a young child. He gave it a shot and fell in love. Song was so smitten that his family relocated to Canada at age 10 to play for the Oakville Rangers. From there, the defenceman moved on to the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, where he was an alternate captain this season.

It was Kerry Gwydir, the Islanders assistant to the general manager, that first took note of Song. He brought the player to the attention of GM Garth Snow, who said the fact the teenager was from China didn’t hurt his value.

“Actually, I think it’s the opposite,” said Snow. “It gets my attention more than anything.”

While some immediately made the connection to Islanders owner Charles Wang, who is of Chinese descent, Snow shot down the theory.

“I know people will think that, but the fact is we saw him as a player who can do the things everyone needs,” he said.

Song had an idea that the Islanders might select him and started feeling nervous when it was their turn to pick in the fifth round. Half an hour later, with the 172nd overall selection, he heard his name called at BB&T Center.

Inside the arena, his family cheered loudly. A world away a non-traditional hockey country took notice of the news.

“Being the first Chinese player (drafted) there’s a lot of pressure from the people back home,” said Song. “Good pressure. I hope that will motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I’ll make them proud.”

Song, who goes by the nickname “Misha,” was trailed at the draft by a Chinese camera crew. The recent Stanley Cup final was broadcast nationally in that country and an aggressive plan to build arenas is underway with an eye on landing the 2022 Winter Games.

Now young kids taking up the game in that country have a new standard to aspire to.

“It feels like I’m a star already,” said Song. “But I’ve got a long way to go.”

Yes, but look how far he’s come.