On the ice, se­nior hockey play­ers find their youth again

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - By TIAN XUEFEI and ZHOU HUIYING in Harbin Con­tact the writ­ers at zhouhuiy­ing@chi­nadaily. com.cn

Af­ter a heavy snow the pre­vi­ous day, the tem­per­a­ture had dropped on Wed­nes­day to as low as -20 C in Harbin, the cap­i­tal of Hei­long¬jiang prov­ince. How­ever, the ex­treme cold and strong wind on the frozen Songhua River couldn’t stop the en­thu­si­asm of a group of ice hockey play­ers.

Watch­ing their free and skill­ful ac­tions on the ice, one would hardly imag­ine, es­pe­cially un­der the heavy uni­forms and hel­mets, that the av­er­age age of the 30 team mem­bers is 66, with the old­est player be­ing 78.

Ev­ery year when the river freezes, the 30-plus play­ers meet for their first match. The matches will con­tinue ev­ery day with­out in­ter­rup­tion un­til the fol­low­ing March.

This year, they had their first game on Nov 18, said Xie Hongli, 72, a re­tired Harbin Rail­way Bureau worker.

“Most peo­ple don’t like the cold winter in the north­east, but we be­gin to look for­ward to it start­ing from late au­tumn,” he said. “The ice arena is our fa­vorite play­ground.”

Most mem­bers of this unique ice hockey team have been trained and played the sport well when they were young.

“Most of our team mem­bers are lo­cals who re­tired from dif­fer­ent fac­to­ries and had ex­pe­ri­enced the sport’s hey­day in the city in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, ice hockey was the No 1 sport in Harbin, and al­most all the fac­to­ries would or­ga­nize ice hockey matches in the winter,” he said.

Xie learned skat­ing in pri­mary school and be­came a mem­ber of the school ice hockey team in ju­nior high school. Af­ter he be­gan work­ing in the mid-1960s, he would par­tic­i­pate in dozens of ice hockey matches at dif­fer­ent lev­els each year.

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