Captain China
Ye talks about his story playing at Olympics as a naturalized citizen
Published: Feb 16, 2022 12:26 AM
Ye Jinguang during a game on February 12, 2022 Photo: IC

Ye Jinguang during a game on February 12, 2022 Photo: IC

His ancestors left China to find different opportunities and adventures. Now, he is back in the country and represents China at the Olympics in a sport that is still strange to many people here. 

"Life has come full circle," Ye ­Jinguang, also known as Brandon Yip, the captain of China's men's ice hockey team, said about his story and feelings playing and promoting ice hockey in China. 

On Tuesday, Ye and his teammates played their last game in the ongoing ­Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, losing to Canada 2-7 in the men's qualification playoff.

Though the team did not claim a victory in the Olympics, Ye still expressed his expectations and target. "I expect my very best every time I set foot on the ice. I want to lead by example and show the Chinese people that we are fighters," he told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Monday.

Ye was born to a Chinese family in Vancouver, Canada in 1985. "Growing up in Canada I didn't know much about China but what I did learn was mainly from my Popo [grandmother], who passed away when I was young," he said.

"Fortunately, this opportunity to play for the Kunlun Red Star and the Chinese national team has rejuvenated my interest in China and has allowed me to live in China for a few seasons. I have really enjoyed the culture, the people and my experiences in China," he said. 

He started ice hockey when he was about 5, coached by his father. "We spent a lot of time playing together. Some of my best memories are just shooting pucks in the basement or playing roller hockey together outside in my front yard with him," he recalled.

Life goals

He graduated from Boston University majoring in criminal justice, but he had never forgotten his three life goals as a young boy: To earn a full scholarship to college; to play professional hockey; and to play in the Olympics.

His goals have been achieved one after another. He has played in the National Hockey League for the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and the Phoenix Coyotes. He scored 56 goals in 174 games in five seasons in the NHL, making him the best Chinese player in the history of professional ice hockey. He also scored 100 goals in the Kontinental Hockey League.

"Ye was a gritty hard-working player that we always had to prepare well to play against when we played his team… After many years of playing as a professional he will bring experience and leadership to his team during the Olympics," Mike Beharrell, a Canadian-Swedish ice hockey coach at Galaxy Club in Beijing, told the Global Times. Beharrell has been coaching in China for four years.

The men's ice hockey national team of China recently caused notice as more than half of its players are naturalized from other countries with a hockey tradition, most of whom have Chinese ancestry. Ye, as the captain of the team with one of the most successful careers in the team, surely won the most attention. 

He has his own understanding of naturalization.

"Since hockey is in its early stages in China, there aren't enough players that can compete at the highest level internationally. We recruited players to our team from several different countries that have previously represented China with the Kunlun Red Star," he said.

China's Ye Jinguang takes a shot during a preliminary round men's hockey game at the Beijing Winter Olympics on February 12, 2022. Photo: VCG

China's Ye Jinguang takes a shot during a preliminary round men's hockey game at the Beijing Winter Olympics on February 12, 2022. Photo: VCG

As the team leader, Ye felt the team is very "unique" for its diversity. "­Although we originally hail from different countries, once we put on the Red Star or Team China jersey we are just one big family. One big family fighting together and representing China and ice hockey," he said.

"Not only are we playing for China and to make China proud, but we are also playing for the sport of hockey, a sport that we all love, and want to showcase in front of everybody in China so we can learn the game and grow the game for many years to come," he said.

Ice hockey was considered a very rare and expensive sport in China, but the situation has been changing. "It has been really cool to see the government support and the amount of ice rinks that China has built over the last few years," he said. He believes playing hockey is a good ­education for the youth because "hockey is a fast sport and can be confusing at times."

Since late January, Ye has been posting his stories and feelings on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo. Even though he needs the help of his teammates to translate what he wants to say, his plain but humble and emotional words touched a lot. Many fans poured into his Sina ­Weibo account to leave comments to express their support. "Thank you for your contribution to the Chinese hockey team. We are all proud of you," one said.

"It is 'China' that has been passed by in our family; it is also China that I am witnessing with my own eyes…" he wrote on his Weibo on Tuesday. 

"Many friends asked me if I would like to stay here after the Olympics. Of course I would, for the progress of the ice hockey in New China."