China’s Para ice hockey national team played a vital role in the country’s success at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
Having never participated in the tournament before, Nikolay Sharshukov’s team went into the Winter Paralympics as the underdog and shocked the world.
PREPARING FOR THE GAMES SINCE 2017
China won bronze after defeating South Korea 4-0 to capture of an amazing Para ice hockey journey in the last five years. The Asian country started its Para ice hockey programme in 2017 when most of the players were recruited.
The 23-year-old forward Yifeng Shen was amongst them.
“I started playing when I was 17-years-old,” said Shen, who originates from the Hebei Province.
“The Para ice hockey federation came to my city to recruit players for the national team. I signed up for it and got picked.”
The outstanding forward is the national team member ever since and has been a part of every success China had including the bronze medal at the Beijing 2022 Games.
“I have been preparing for the Paralympic Winter Games since 2017, so since I got recruited to the team,” reckoned Shen, nicknamed the Little Whirlwind for his exceptional speed and skill on the ice.
Shen scored eight goals and assisted for six more at the Winter Paralympics leading the team in total points. He had a dream start to the tournament at the National Indoor Stadium collecting four goals and one assist in a 7-0 win against Slovakia.
China’s number 17 continued the preliminary round in stunning fashion, scoring two more goals and assisting once in two triumphs against the Czech Republic (5-2) and Italy (6-0).
In the toughest game of the tournament for China, the qualification finals against the Czechs, Shen delivered once again. He scored and assisted once to help the host nation make it through to the semi-final with a 4-3 victory.
OVERCOMING THE POPULARITY
During the whole tournament, Chinese players understandably had the best support from the stands. Although, that was not always the benefit for the home team.
“At first, we were very nervous because we got so much attention. The Paralympic Games are the biggest stage of them all and we needed to overcome our popularity first in order to do our best and focus on the ice,” described Shen who was stopped by the USA in the semi-final.
The future Beijing 2022 champions outscored China by 11-0 to produce the highest-scoring victory in the history of Paralympic semis.
The redemption time for Shen and China came in the bronze-medal game against South Korea. China won 4-0 against the fellow Asian country with Shen getting on the scoresheet twice and recording two assists in the process.
“We are feeling great after playing so well during the whole tournament. I am super relaxed. We did our best in every game and followed the guidance of our coaching staff,” Shen pointed out at the end of the Beijing 2022 Games.
After a short rest, China will start preparing for its first World Championships A-Pool scheduled for 2023.
In order to get there, Yifeng Shen and his teammates had to win the B-Pool and C-Pool World Championships.
Shen played a vital role in the team’s progression to the highest level of Para ice hockey. First, he led all players in points (five goals and eight assists) at the Vierumaki 2018 World Championships C-Pool where China recorded two victories and progressed to the B-Pool.
Shen was picked as the tournament’s best forward as he was a year later at the Berlin 2019 World Championships B-Pool where China finished with the bronze medal.
The team used the experience to triumph at the Ostersund 2021 World Championships B-Pool in the most dominant fashion winning all five of its games in Sweden.
Shen was once again picked as the tournament’s best forward leading the field in points scored. The 23-year-old recorded 14 goals and 12 assists to lead both categories.
That was just a warning for what to expect at the Beijing 2022 where Shen showed his exceptional skill once again.