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Around Xinjiang | Games of Passion

Tianshannet-Xinjiang Daily news:(Reporter Ren Jiang and Song Duer) Fuyun County, located at the foot of the Altay Mountains in Altay Prefecture, northwest China’s Xinjiang, experiences bitter cold in winter, with an average temperature of -37 degrees Celsius in January and a record low of -51.5 degrees Celsius. Although its youth ice hockey team is well known, the sport has a history spanning less than 10 years in the county. Over the years, some locals have shared stories about passion and perseverance related to the sport.

Photo shows the youth ice hockey team of Fuyun County. (Photo courtesy of the publicity department of the Party committee of Fuyun County)

Introducing ice hockey from NE China to Xinjiang

Zhou Xiaofeng was born in Fuyun Conty, and she has been interested in ice and snow sports since she was a child. She was selected for her primary school’s physical training team and started learning speed skating, which would later become her profession. In 2003, she honed her skills and became a professional speed skater. After retiring, she became a coach.

In 2009, she went back to Fuyun County and became a speed skating instructor at the county's amateur sports school.

At the end of 2013, Zhou Xiaofeng received a mission. She was assigned to have a one-month ice hockey training at the winter sports project management center in Qiqihar City, Heilongjiang Province, northeast China. During this time, cadres from Heilongjiang Province who offered pair assistance to Xinjiang found that children in the county liked ice and snow sports and many of them were talented in ice and snow sports, so they advised introducing ice hockey to the county, and Zhou was the person to cultivate ice hockey talents.

With the strong support of relevant authorities and the efforts of Zhou Xiaofeng and her colleagues, the first school ice hockey team in Fuyun County was established in January 2014. The players were selected from more than 2,000 primary and secondary school students, and it was the first ice hockey team in Altay Prefecture.

Photo shows the youth ice hockey team of Fuyun County. (Photo courtesy of the publicity department of the Party committee of Fuyun County)

Insisting on training with their passions

The ice hockey team managed to recruit over 50 kids, of whom the youngest was five years old and the oldest was 16 years old. In addition to their curiosity about ice hockey, the strangeness of the sport was all they had in common. The kids were super fit, and they loved ice and snow sports, but a lot of them didn't even know what ice hockey is.

The training started with the most basic skating movements, which Zhou Xiaofeng taught, and the children learned step by step. At the beginning of teaching and training, Zhou found that a month's training in Qiqihar was far from adequate. She combined the existing basic knowledge of ice hockey, repeatedly studied and analyzed various training and game videos, and taught the children while learning.   

Nowadays, the training condition of the ice hockey team is getting better and better. In recent years, Fuyun County has increased investment, set up an outdoor skating rink with professional baffles, and equipped the kids with teenagers’ ice hockey protective gear. With the great assistance of Heilongjiang Province, a number of professional ice hockey coaches have come to the team, and the ice hockey players have improved their competitive level and broadened their horizons.

Photo shows the youth ice hockey team of Fuyun County in training. (Photo courtesy of the publicity department of the Party committee of Fuyun County)

Photo shows the youth ice hockey team of Fuyun County in a competition. (Photo courtesy of Zhou Xiaofeng)

Efforts for the ideal

“Whether it goes difficult or smooth, I always tell the players to insist on the ideal and strive to achieve it,” said Zhou.

Ice hockey was not common in Xinjiang in the past, so the school ice hockey team in Fuyun County once did not participate in an official game in eight years. With the gradual promotion and popularity of the sport in Xinjiang, various counties and cities in Altay Prefecture have set up school ice hockey teams. In early 2022, the Altay Prefecture resumed youth ice hockey tournament, and the Fuyun County ice hockey team won two championships in the primary school group and the junior middle school group. At the end of 2022, the first winter games were held in the autonomous region, and the Fuyun County ice hockey team participated and won two silver medals.

Nearly 10 years later, the ice hockey team has undergone significant changes. The captain of the ice hockey team, Tanjark Tursunbek, was one of the first players and one of the only kids to ever play on the team. The little boy is now taller than Zhou Xiaofeng and will take the college entrance exam next year, which also means that he will leave the team. Whenever talking about these, Zhou Xiaofeng looks always very proud, "Whether he is still in the ice hockey team or not, the experience will leave him valuable wealth of life."

Now, some schools have already been negotiating with the sports school to set up their own ice hockey teams, and ice hockey will be more popular among people in the county. A youth women's ice hockey team will be set up in 2023 if everything goes on well. Now, there are dozens of girls engaged in regular training, and Zhou's daughter is one of them. Soon, when it is frozen and the earth is white in the county, coaching voices, children's yells, and the sound of children skating fast across the ice will form a symphony on the ice rink.

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