• Song Andong

Song Andong (Photo : CGTN)

The emergence of Song Andong in the National Hockey League has fueled the passion of China's youth for the sport.

Song, the first Chinese-born player in the league, is 6'1'' and a mere 181 lbs, which is small compared to most NHL defensemen. He hopes to compensate for his lack of size by making smart plays just like Detroit Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom.

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The 19-year-old native of Beijing was drafted by the New York Islanders 172nd overall in 2015 despite the limited video about him.

Song posted 33 points in 94 games in the United States High School League (USHS). He was also the captain of China's World Junior team in 2014-15 and twice named the captain of Beijing Ice Hockey.

Last year, Song took his talents to the Madison Capitols of the United States Hockey League (USHL) and has yet to score in 18 games. Nonetheless, he is a hero for many young Chinese who are aspiring to become professional hockey players.

There is now a growing demand for organized and professional hockey training in China. In Beijing alone, there are about 2,500 youngsters learning the game with 17 clubs and play on the city's 14 rinks.

Although the sport is expanding in China, the country is way behind countries like United States, Canada, Russia or Sweden.

In fact, when the Beijing Kunlun Red Stars played against a team from Moscow in a crucial playoff qualifier in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), a vast majority of the 15,000 seats at Beijing were empty.

After China won the right to host the 2022 Olympics, President Xi Jinping announced that he will get 300 million Chinese to play hockey.

That prompted tycoons in China and Russia to create Beijing Kunlun Red Stars, the city's first professional hockey club. Russian President Vladimir Putin even took the time to visit Beijing for the signing ceremony with Xi last June.

While China is competitive in Winter sports such as skiing and ice-skating, there is a different skill set and physicality required for ice hockey.