Team Beijing ran into a few challenges at first. One of the goalies brought over to the U.S. was too young for the league, so they found Jeremy Haffner, a local Long Island kid, to play goalie. At 17, he's the youngest goalie in the league.
Haffner had never met anyone from China before, but now he was repping a jersey with "Beijing" across the front. Haffner went through all the defeats with his Chinese teammates, and he witnessed their progress.
"They work really hard," he said. "We almost can compete with every other team.
"We sometimes led the game. But we lost lots of scores in the third quarter [period] because of tiredness." Haffner doesn't speak any Mandarin, but he and his teammates learned to communicate with the help of Google Translate.
"I did not find many differences between us and them," he said. "They play video games as well. On the ice, you can't know we are Chinese or Americans. We all belong to the Beijing team."
Jeffery Gu, an Asian American player from Connecticut, also joined Team Beijing before the season. Gu has been skating since he was 6 and started to learn hockey at age 9.
"As an Asian American, playing with these Chinese players I can have a better understanding of my parents' history and our traditions," Gu said. "It means a lot to me."
Team Beijing used the Islanders' hockey facilities during its season. Tantus Branham
Gu also played the interpreter role between Coach Cassell and the other players, explaining the coaches' thoughts to the other players while also bringing up suggestions to the coaches.
"They've made great progress in both tactics and techniques," Cassell said. "It's very hard for them to understand that much since they come from a whole different training system."
And this North American hockey fellowship was also vital for the Chinese coaches.
"I'm learning as well," Wang said. "I'm learning the advanced hockey concepts and tactics just like the kids. We are honored to play such high-level games."
The young players train hard. They also eat a lot. In order to make sure they take care of their diet, the Beijing Hockey Association hired cooks and a full staff to prepare food for the players.
"These kids eat tons of food," said Zhang Qingxi, the main cook. "Lamb, pork, beef, whatever, I just have to change the menu regularly."
Jon DiFlorio, the Islanders' fitness coach, helped track the athletic progress of each player on Team Beijing. Some players even gained 40 pounds after a few months to help adjust to the physical play in North America.
"Everyone changed a lot," DiFlorio said. "Most of them could only squat with 30 or 40 pounds. Now they can do 110 pounds easily."