Both Ron Fogarty and Ian McNally had no idea what to expect when they headed to China to instruct at ice hockey camps.
What both coaches found out while they were in China was that when it comes right down to it, ice hockey is ice hockey.
Fogarty, the head men’s ice hockey coach at Princeton University, and McNally, the head ice hockey coach at the Hun School, spent two weeks in Beijing leading the ECAC/Princeton Hockey Camp.
Once that camp was completed, McNally spent an additional week conducting a camp in Shenzhen.
“Hockey is hockey wherever you are,” said Fogarty, who coached the Tigers to the ECAC Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA tournament last winter. “There is a passion to grow the game and younger players are eager to get better. They want to go over to the United States to further their hockey while also getting an education.The goal is to create a path to college hockey and have something like a prep school model that we have in the states.”
McNally, who played his college hockey at Princeton, was happy to have the opportunity to head to a country he had never been before and teach his sport to players who are just beginning to learn the game.
“What peaked my interest is we have had three kids from Beijing come to Hun who play hockey,” said McNally, who has guided the Raiders to five straight Mercer County Tournament titles. “They all grew up playing hockey and are from Beijing. Speaking to those kids it sounds like hockey is catching on. They have a KHL team in the Russian Pro League, which next to the NHL is the wealthiest pro league. They have had the Kun Lun Red Star in Beijing for the last two years so they have a legit team.”
Beijing will play as the host to the Winter Olympics in 2022 and ice hockey will be a part of those games. Thus, China is looking to grow the sport and camps like the ones that Fogarty and McNally were a part of should help do that.
“It was great,” McNally said of the experience. “I had no idea what to expect. I had never been there. I had asked the boys who go to Hun a couple of things but I didn’t know what I was getting into. The people were looking to treat Ron and Steve (Hagwell, the ECAC Commissioner) well and I kind of piggybacked off that.
“The people there were looking out for us. It was not like we were fending for ourselves out there. It’s the first time people have called me a foreigner. It was great. I liked it. We didn’t have a ton of time to see stuff, but basically it was all hockey stuff.”
Princeton assistant coach Kevin Moore was part of the contingent coaching in Beijing. Fogarty found that while there was a communication gap with the players at the start of the camp, it didn’t take long for everyone to get on the same page on the ice.
“It was a great experience and something I am looking forward to doing again,” Fogarty said. “You go in with eyes wide open and then once you see how genuine and passionate the people are to get hockey up and going as a sport you dive right in.
“I relied heavily on the interpreter at first. As we went on showing the drills that was when it got easier. A majority of the younger players understood English because from what I understand they are starting to teach it in the schools. The teenagers didn’t understand as much but the younger players helped with the communication. It was easier with the older ones once we showed them to drill.”
The camp in Beijing was a first for Princeton and the ECAC. It is an effort that will hopefully continue.
“It was a pilot program to bring college coaches over to help build the game in front of the Winter Olympics in 2022,” Fogarty said. “It was a first-year program and I thought it went very well.
“We were treated exceptionally well. We saw the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and did some other sightseeing. We were treated to authentic cuisine. I think I ate some things that I am not sure what they were. It was a great experience, 180 degrees from what I expected. You hear about going to a foreign country halfway around the world and you’re not sure what to expect. But it was a great experience.”
After the two weeks of camp in Beijing, McNally headed to Shenzhen for another week of camp, where he was helped by a Princeton player, Alex Riche.
“In Beijing it was ECAC/Princeton,” McNally said. “Steve Hagwell and Ron Fogarty and Kevin Moore, they were all there. I went and helped out. The Shenzhen version was also call ECAC/PU but it was myself and (current PU player) Alex Riche. He is a Chinese National. His mother is from China. He visited his grandparents and then helped me run the camp.”
For McNally, the hope is that this was not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I definitely want to do it again,” he said. “Kun Lun Red Star organized it. They are interested in growing the sport. They are the ones who brought us all over. There are certainly a lot of kids over there that want to come to American schools. The idea of Princeton University being there was exciting. The Ivy League and ECAC being represented was special.
“I had a great time doing it. I was talking with Mike Towns, who is a coach from American International College and had played for Ron and was there helping with the camp, and we said this could be a rink in Massachusetts right now. It’s the same everywhere. It’s kids playing hockey. If you take the Chinese writing off the boards it is the same as any rink in the United States.”