LEWISTON, Maine -- Thanks in great part to the initiative and hard work of senior Bob (Hehao) Xu, the Bates men's ice hockey club team took the opportunity of a lifetime in mid-April, traveling to China and competing in a tournament there that Xu himself helped to set up, along with an array of other teams from Asia and Europe.
Xu and fellow senior team captains Morgan Dewdney and Ned Moreland spoke with Bates assistant sports information director Aaron Morse on this week's Bates Bobcast podcast about their journey and its unexpected indelible moments, such as the realization that during their week of playing teams from around the globe, on an international-sized sheet of ice in Beijing, these Bobcats were also the de facto Team USA, playing against school teams from China, Belarus and the Czech Republic.
"My friend who is studying abroad in Beijing and was able to come to one of the games, and he's fluent in Mandarin, was telling me that the announcers and all the chants were saying 'Team USA' and they kept referring to us as that," said Dewdney. "It was just us representing the United States. And that was something that we were all taken aback when we got there. You know, we saw next to Bates College it says Team USA."
None of it could have happened without Xu, a Beijing native who played with China's under-18 national team before attending Bates. With Beijing set to host the Winter Olympics in 2022 and become the first city to host both Summer and Winter Olympics, Xu looked at tensions between the U.S. and China and saw his sport as a tool of diplomacy, as he told Nathan Fournier of the Lewiston Sun Journal ("Bob Xu's big idea sends Bates men's club hockey team to Beijing," April 12).
"This whole idea started last year with the tensions between the two countries, USA and China," Xu told Fournier. "Growing up and playing hockey in Beijing, I know a lot of connections over there. I was thinking about having an international tournament, the two countries together, also having other countries so college athletes (get to) know each other better and to have a better environment before the 2022 (Winter) Olympics. That's my primary goal."
The result was the inaugural International Ice Hockey Tournament of World Universities, and the experience of a lifetime for more than 20 Bates students.
As Xu began to act on his idea more than a year ago -- arranging everything from bringing in teams from China, South Korea, Finland, Russia, Belarus and the Czech Republic to working with Bates sophomore and team secretary of the board Katie Cody eventually securing travel visas for more than 20 Bates students -- his teammates on the Bates team say they were still a bit unaware of the reality soon to come. As Moreland said on the Bobcast, "One moment I'll never forget is we're all sitting in the locker room before practice and Bob comes in with a stack of visas, and everyone takes one look at their passports and they are wide-eyed. When that moment hit, I said 'Alright boys, we're going.'"
Dewdney, a four-year letterwinner on the men's soccer team, saw the trip as illustrative of the rare opportunities student-athletes have at Bates. "That's one of the reasons why I like Bates so much; it gives me the opportunity to compete at the varsity level playing soccer and then switch it up and play club hockey. So I'm just really fortunate. This trip was an unbelievable experience. And I just never thought it was going to happen."
Xu and the team hope this is only the beginning for the International Ice Hockey Tournament of World Universities, and Bates' participation in it.
"I think we did a pretty good job to put out this tournament together for the first time ever," Xu said. "I think it's the first ever international college tournament in China. So it means a lot to China and also China hockey. And I think they are going to make it the next year, so I really hope that we can go, go on further with Bates hockey and also this tournament."