Peking Puckers
Published: Dec 31, 2009 04:50 AM Updated: May 25, 2011 01:12 PM

By Gao Fumao

Beijing's ice hockey specialists are sharpening their sticks for an annual trip to Ulan Bator where they'll face Mongols on ice. A planeload of hockey players, their sticks and Coor's beer leaves for the Mongolian capital February.

Anyone who's watched the game will have seen the un-nice side of Canadians, who tackle and pummel each other into the side of the rink – they also occasionally throw fists for the glory of this, their national game.

Canada's most popular sport, ice hockey pits teams of six against each other in 60-minute games of halves. On their skates, forwards score goals by moving the rubber disc-like puck with a bladed stick into the opponent's goal net.

Beijing side has had plenty of practice: Six Beijing-based teams play a league which runs September to May. Games happen every Thursday and Sunday at the Hosa ice rink near the villa lands of the 5th ring road.

Ice hockey in Beijing dates back to a healthy 1970s rivalry between the Canadian and USSR communities. Today's league counts 100 active players in its ranks: 55 of them Canadian, six of them Russian.

Ice hockey can be expensive for the curious debutant. All the padding and helmet costs about 2,500 yuan ($366) to buy, explained Ray Plummer, one of two commissioners of the Beijing league – and one of its most illustrious players.

The cream of various league teams join forces in one Beijing International Ice Hockey side for international tournaments. In their white-red kit (emblazoned with a cartoonish club logo of a Mao-capped strapping Canuck waving his stick about against a backdrop of the Great Wall) the "fastest blades in the East" don't hesitate to mention their moment of glory: Beating the Chinese national team 7-5.

When not beating the professionals the Puckers are growing their game: Coaching youngsters and lending expert hands to the Mongolian Hockey Federation. The Mongolian tournament makes sense: They'll play outdoors in a minus 30 degree chill. So too a 2008 trip to North Korea. The DPRK gets pretty icy, explained Commissioner Plummer.

But another away tournament, taking place in March, takes the veteran (over 35) Beijing players to un-icy Bangkok, Thailand. There's also a trip to Dubai. The city made of sand has a giant indoor rink. To see how they do it, go along to the Hosa rink on January 10 for a double-header: Bull Dogs v Warriors and Dragons v Emperors. Or book your flight for Ulan Bator.

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