[Q] Can you tell me about the San Jose Sharks ending their affiliation with the China Sharks this summer, a team which has been renamed the China Dragons?
[CC] In China, nothing is as it ever seems! We proposed a plan for total Chinese solvency financially and on the ice at the development and Asian League level. The Chinese ice hockey Association and its Jr. ministers in charge wanted things to remain ‘status quo’ which we deemed unacceptable. In the end I gave Greg Jamison and Mike Lehr, my two supervisors and partners, the opinion that we should not go forward in the Asian League with the Chinese until the Chinese Ice Hockey Association and its operatives were removed from our partnership. The (China Sharks) and the Asian League were asked by us NOT to use any of our “marks”.
[Q] Is there still a relationship between the Sharks and the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, and moving forward does the San Jose Sharks organization have future plans for China in general or the ALIH specifically?
[CC] There is a fabulous relationship between the Sr. Director of the CIHA, Mr. Zhou and SVSE as we look forward to working with them in the future. Our main goals now are developing coaches, players and on/off ice officials with Sr. officials in the Minister of Sports office in China. This level is going to affect change in China and help our work and expertise reach the people as opposed to any game playing at the lower levels we’ve tried to avoid.
[Q] I have read hockey is historically popular in certain regions of China. In what parts of the country was hockey already played? How did the Sharks work to increase the development of new players? How quickly did Chinese fans or the Chinese media adapt to a new team and a new sport being played in such an urban location? How was that reception compared to other teams in Japan or Korea?
[CC] Hockey in China is well known despite the results under the current regime of the CIHA. Hockey is mainly popular in the North mostly because of the influence of the Russian border. The sport with the influx of rinks nationwide is growing in unconventional areas weather-wise as the South and West will see rapid growth in the game in the near future. This is vital to the games survival if for no other reason than to get the game away from the grips of the same old “dinosaurs” in the north of China who have taken the game the wrong direction while using it as a game where development of coaches, players and officials (was non-professional).
The Chinese media covered our team and results because the team is incorrectly classified and created as the official ‘National Team’ of China for financial reasons that has no benefit for people like us or those who play the sport. Because the players level was so poor due to bad development and bad coaching and training, the Chinese media were and are ‘brutal’ towards the sport, especially the Men’s team.
This season we were only going forward in the Asian League in a commercially run team where the Jr. ministers and their local (associates) would have no say or affect on any players we picked, trained, paid and developed. Of course the CIHA was vehemently against this proposal as it basically boxed and blocked any influence they would have, so our investment in China of developing coaches, players and officials would be expedited two-fold.
You must understand that the rules in creating the team are set for Jr. ministers and their buddies to keep everyone happy by selecting teams that their (associates) ask them to pick. Of course for one season we did not allow this and the team was more successful than it had ever been. This created chaos for the very few ‘obstructionist’ in the local northern region, as the game was changed and those responsible for the destruction of the Chinese so called ‘product’ were left out in the cold. Their players of choice who have led China to the B division of group 2 at the WC, and have led the country to be the laughing stock of international hockey were all told by me and my coaches ‘thanks but no thanks’ as we were rebuilding the team from top to bottom.
The crowds in Songjiang where we played last season (about 35 minutes outside Shanghai with no traffic) were good as we averaged just over 3000 per game. Mostly college kids and young families as they were loyal and vocal about the Sharks! Sadly this season they’ve lost their first 6 games in a hapless situation where on average 350 people have been let in free to watch this… collection of kids being led down a path of more failure.
Chinese (fans) are obviously not very kind to the Japanese teams as a whole and maybe like the South Koreans a bit more. Other sports mainly feed this rivalry like soccer, table tennis, badminton, volleyball and basketball.
[Q] In an interview, Claude Lemieux mentioned a few thousand fans in attendance during one of the games in China. How was the turnout and the atmosphere during the China Sharks first season? Which was the toughest building to play in?
[CC] Atmosphere in the building was great. There are plenty of YouTube clips from fans at home games last season in Songjiang as we enjoyed our time there and the community.
God Bless Claude and his family for letting him come over as he was and is great. He is one of the best people I’ve ever known as he is the consummate professional, and like Mac and Flats gave our team and league a sense of being. I will forever be indebted to my friend Claude as should all hockey people as the game needs more talent and character like Claude.
The toughest building for the China Sharks to play in was Anyang, home of the Halla team in South Korea. They seemed to be the only team who prepared as if the NHL Sharks were on the ice (laugh). We liked our partners in the AL as we hope to be back soon under a completely separate structure than what is currently in place and unacceptable to us an ownership group.
[Q] The San Jose Sharks brought a few China Sharks forwards to Oakland Ice for an offseason hockey clinic. San Jose also brought several foreign-born players to China to help solidify the lineup, including player/coach and former San Jose goaltender Wade Flaherty, and 6-foot-7 defenseman/coach Steve McKenna. How difficult was the process of bringing in foreign-born imports to China and the ALIH? Flaherty was named the best goaltender in the league last year, former Stockton Thunder forward Brock Radunske lead the league in goals (29) and points (57), and Jason Beeman lead the China Sharks with 15 goals. How much of an impact of did foreign-born players have on the ice and in the development of the ALIH players elsewhere and in China? Were there any other players that you contacted, or that contacted you, about playing in China or the ALIH?
[CC] Many ex-NHLers I know want to come to China as the numbers this past off season were very high as we would have been a favorite to win the AL had we gone forward. My plan was two stage: One was to field a development team playing 75-95 games while playing exhibition schedules all season against AL teams and Asian hockey colleges in Japan and South and North Korea. This team would have been 99% Chinese. The AL team would have been 7 Chinese tops with the other 13 players half import and half Japanese. Because of the Sharks name, and because of the exoticness of China, acquiring players was not a problem.
Import players are China right now which is what is wrong with the current people running Chinese men’s hockey. They do not understand the concept of 3 steps back in the long run equals 15 steps forward. Whether its because of financial interests or ignorance is not important, the Chinese men will never grow until a proven researched national strategy, like what we invested millions in, is fully implemented and the troublemakers are pushed aside.
This season we would have had 5 former NHL players on the China Sharks roster had we proceeded.
[Q] Steve McKenna might have the most interesting post-NHL career story of any hockey player to date, going from England to Australia to Italy to Korea. Can you describe how he came to the China Sharks? He also mentioned a persepctive shift when he and Flaherty were riding bikes through the University campus on the way to work. Is an open minded and adventurous mindset needed for former North American or European players to enjoy themselves in the ALIH? What are one or two things that a player might have to deal with playing in China that he would not expect prior to coming over?
[CC] The minute we were announced as taking over the AL franchise, which by the way was never our goal as we came to China to develop players, coaches and officials and still see this as our mission, I targeted Mac as I knew him well. After our first season when we realized how dysfunctional the system currently in place was I called him and said ‘Mac, you must be in China next season’… I think we agreed to a contract on that phone call. The fact Mac is the national team coach of Australia and has won a World Championship at the helm there also fit our needs of playing and assisting Derek.
YES, players must be open minded and adventurous to live and play in China… (laugh). The bicycles were my idea as I thought it would be great to have these big guys in their suits riding to and from the arena daily in front of hundreds of thousands of college students.
Communism and its effects on people in a society that is quickly changing into a full fledged democracy in some ways is a major eye opener. It seemed to me that the players got it very well while the Jr. ministers did, but wanted no part of it and its affect on the average person… (laugh). The absolute lack of understanding of the team game is another. How the game of hockey is really coached and taught is another. How people eat team meals and travel and what is socially acceptable and what is not is another major eye opener. If you factor in what communism’s principals are and add them to these equations you get some very entertaining and interesting results. I am saving the juiciest stories for my book that I am writing on China and team sports.