Written by D.F. Karppi Friday, 04 March 2011 00:00
Members of the media had the opportunity to meet New York Islanders owner, Charles Wang, as he hosted the fourth annual Lighthouse International Youth Hockey Tournament which featured pee-wee teams from China, Finland, Japan, Long Island and Westchester County. It was held at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 23. The ages of participants in the tournament ranged from 9-12 years old.
The championship game featured the Ilves Islanders (Team Finland) against Team Japan. The Ilves won the tournament by a final score of 6-4 on Sunday, Jan. 23.
The medal ceremony was immediately following the championship game, prior to Mr. Wang’s press conference.
Charles Wang is a proud hockey parent. He said, “My boy scored a goal yesterday. I’m so happy. We had to peel him off the ceiling. All of you parents here know, when you see your boy – you almost feel like you did it yourself.”
Mr. Wang is not only a hockey father - he is a fan. He said, “Did you see that goalie for Finland? She was good. It’s a wonderful thing to see more girls participate.” Hockey even has room for female players. Emma Kerkkänen, the lone female skater for the Finns, was the winning goaltender in the championship game.
Many families from the Finnish team traveled with their young players. A handful of Japanese parents also made the trip. Families stayed at the Long Island Marriott, convenient to the Coliseum.
Mr. Wang said of his son Cameron, “It’s a wonderful feeling. Here’s somebody that plays hockey, practices, plays for his school team, and in the Lighthouse Tournament he gets a chance and scores. He was happy.”
His son Cameron really enjoys the tournament itself, said Mr. Wang. “Talk to some of the kids and get their reactions. My son plays in the tournament and he’s not shy. If there’s something he doesn’t like, he’ll tell me. Just ask the kids. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Mr. Wang is proud of being able to share the hockey experience with children in China, where he has built about 28 rinks. He said, “As you all know, I was born in China, came to the United States, so I’m sort of split between the two. I want to make sure that China enjoys some of the great things that we’ve done in the United States too, and one of them is hockey.”
Mr. Wang said of the work of Project Hope in China, “What we do is really help the high schools and middle schools there. We help them get the grounds prepared, we get them boards and all the equipment for it: lights and things. It’s an outdoor rink. It’s pretty cold there. They said it was minus something there today (Jan. 23.)”
He said they have good programs there now, and Garth Snow, the Islander’s general manager has seen the progress over the past four years. “He says the quality is getting better and better,” said Mr. Wang.
“Boy these kids look good,” General Manager Garth Snow told Mr. Wang. “So he was doing a lot of scouting,” Mr. Wang commented, with a laugh. They are open to finding the “Yao Ming of hockey.” [Yao Ming, the hero of Chinese basketball is the first Chinese-born athlete to play in the NBA.]
Mr. Wang sees great value in the sport of hockey. He said, “This is one of the great team sports, hockey is. No matter how great that player is on your team, even if you look at the NHL, he’ll only play 20 minutes out of 60 minutes This isn’t like a baseball pitcher or a football player or a basketball player. This is a great team game.”
He also sees hockey as an international sport. He said, “We started with the idea that we could take this sport and just get more hockey throughout the world, especially in a place like China. Then, I found out that China actually does play the sport in the northeast corner mostly.
“One day I was talking to the minister of sports and I asked, ‘How big is (hockey) in China?’ He answered, ‘Well it’s a little area. There’s only 124 million people there.’ So I said, ‘Wow. Canada has 30 million, so that’s four times the size of Canada.’ Like anything else, if you start with the grassroots, you will eventually develop a following. You can see, the kids actually follow. We’ve been doing this for many years now. Some of the kids come back and you get to know them.”
He said the experience is also great for the American children. “It’s like anything else. It opens their eyes to the world. Not just for the kids coming here, but last year we sent kids over to China too, for the Lighthouse Tournament that is played in China. It opens their whole eyes to a world that’s much bigger. It isn’t their little Long Island or Westchester. It shows them that these kids are the same, just like them.” Mr. Wang said Cameron has played in the tournament in China.
He sees the tournament as having great potential for growth. “I think next year they’re talking about a team from Italy that might want to come. I think it would be great, the bigger it gets, I think the better it is.” He added, “Wherever there are kids that want to play, if they come from Taiwan, God bless them. If they come from Vietnam, God bless us. We just want more kids involved in the sport. This is just one little tournament.” Hopefully it will help popularize the sport, he said.
“I think the NHL has done a wonderful job promoting the game all over the world and will continue to do that. All of us owners want to see that growth,” Mr. Wang said.
He said an extra benefit of having the tournament played at the Coliseum, the home of the Islanders, is that, “A lot of them are Islanders fans.” He remembered one that was a Rangers fan. “Two of the kids’ parents came up to me and said, ‘My boy couldn’t sleep the whole night he was so excited.’ They’re so excited because it’s all part of the wonderful opportunity for a kid – he’s skating on NHL ice. It’s an unbelievable thrill for them.”
Mr. Wang’s philanthropic effort that started as a direct connection to China has grown into a worldwide event for kids.