Christie Cheung, 19 years old, is an ice hockey player playing for the club team Generation Next, as well as the Hong Kong Women’s National Ice Hockey team. Currently a first year physical education student at Education University, Christie didn’t start taking up the sport seriously until three years ago and has since gone on to compete in her first overseas tournament in Bulgaria representing Hong Kong, and will be competing in the upcoming Mega Ice Hockey 5s in Hong Kong starting 30 April.

We spoke with Christie about how she got into the sport and about the state of women’s ice hockey in Hong Kong.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for length).

Photo credit: Halo Studio

How did you start pick up ice hockey as a sport?

My father figure skated when I was much younger. Then when I was six years old, our family visited Canada where some of my relatives live, and because there are plenty of skating rinks there, they took us to skate … but with ice hockey skates. At the time there was a TV show — where the protagonists played ice hockey — that my father loved watching, so with that influence, he bought a pair of ice hockey shoes and equipment, brought them back to Hong Kong and started learning to play the sport. At the time I was quite interested by it, so I would go with him to skate.

My father is a teacher as a school in Hong Kong. So once he learned how to play ice hockey, he decided to start a team at the school where he taught. I would join his team on and off (I didn’t study there), when I had time and when I wanted to do some exercise. The funny thing is, I would play ice hockey in figure skates! I didn’t take ice hockey seriously at all.

It wasn’t until I was in Form One that my father decided that if I were to keep trying ice hockey, that I should wear ice hockey shoes instead of figure skates (the types of shoes are very different). But I only played for about half a year and then I decided to switch sports and play basketball instead, in part because the school I attended had a girls basketball team and I wanted to try play on the school team. However, my experience on the basketball team didn’t turn out to be as ideal as I’d have hoped, so I went back to ice hockey when I was in Form Three at my father’s encouragement.

At that point, once I started, I kept enrolling in various types of classes and then I found myself really enjoying ice hockey. I’ve since stayed with the sport!

What led you to stay in ice hockey?

I guess how I stayed in ice hockey has a lot to do with timing and chance. At the time I developed interest in ice hockey after Form Three, Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust had just funded a big ice hockey program called the Generation Next program. I joined this program and it gave me many opportunities to play so I could improve my skills quickly. The more my skills improved, the more I also loved the game and felt motivated to keep playing.

The other thing is, I made many new friends through that program and I really liked my teammates. There’s something about playing a niche sport together, working towards the same goal and working towards something for each other that builds strong camaraderie.

Christie Cheung (on the far left) with her team
Christie Cheung (on the far left) with her team. Photo credit: Women Ice Hockey League

What was the hardest thing about learning ice hockey?

I think overcoming my own fears because at first I was scared of falling and losing balance. I was afraid of lifting one foot up and falling flat on my face. But I also knew that if I didn’t keep trying, if I didn’t overcome that fear, I’d never learn to play the sport.

What do you like about ice hockey compared to basketball?

It gives me a completely different experience; I find that ice hockey requires more teamwork and more coordination. I find the speed in ice hockey exhilarating, and it forces me to be more focused and more attentive to more things within a short span of time. Also in an ice hockey game because there are unlimited substitutions, players are usually on for one to two minutes at a time before being subbed off — while we’re on, we’re required to give it our all. I really like this aspect of the game. Overall, ice hockey gives me a bigger challenge and I feel motivated to keep learning.

Your father encouraged you to play ice hockey … how did your mother feel?

Actually my mother wasn’t enthusiastic at all at first. She didn’t even want me to play basketball, let alone ice hockey! Her first impression was that basketball was too rough, and that girls should play gentler sports that didn’t require so much physical contact. In the beginning, she did not really let me play, particularly because she was concerned playing ice hockey would disrupt my studies.

I’m lucky that my father has always been so supportive of me. Even when I first started playing, he would drive me to and from practices, especially as we kept the equipment at his school as my mother would scold us if we kept the gear at home. Because he supported me, he helped me persuade my mother. He convinced my mother that in order to play ice hockey I would study hard. So I did.

Then one time he invited her to watch me practice and I was so excited that my mother was there, watching me play ice hockey for the first time ever. When my mother saw how her support meant so much to me, she slowly started to change her mind about me playing ice hockey. Now, sometimes if I come home late from practice, she’ll wait up for me to show her support.

I can say that playing ice hockey has actually been a good bonding opportunity for my father and I, because we always have ice hockey to talk about. We can watch games together and he comes out to my competition so he can give me some pointers and tips. Even my mother has slowly started to watch games with us!

How did you get on the National team?

I’d been thinking about it since 2016, but in 2017 I had to take the DSE exams, so my parents naturally wanted me to focus on my studies first. After the exams were over, I enrolled in some programs to prep me for the selection process to be on the National team. I’d been waiting for so long to get the opportunity to try out that I worked really hard to build up my skills to make the team.

Then in July 2017 I participated in the selection process and … made the team.

How has your first experience on the National team been?

I was so excited and nervous! In December 2017, we traveled to Bulgaria for the 2018 IIHF Women’s World Championship Division II B Qualification. It was the first time I traveled with my friends and teammates from Generation Next! We competed against Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia and South Africa.

It was such an unforgettable experience: we could practice every day (we can’t in HK because of lack of space), and their rinks are so large! I was so happy and really cherished the opportunity.

Though we lost 3 games and won 1, it’s encouraged me to work harder to improve my game, especially my physical game. I observed that the overseas players were much stronger and had better endurance.

Photo from: Halo Studio

In the three years that you’ve played, what do you think have been your biggest takeaways?

Aside from the team work skills I’ve gained, I would say I have learned to be more thoughtful and ask more questions, especially as I think about how to play, how to skate faster, and to learn to better understand how my teammates will behave on the field and also how they make decisions. I’ve become bolder about entering into discussions about the sport and to share perspectives about the game.

So,  what’s next?

We have the Mega Ice Hockey 5s coming up shortly and I’m competing in the women’s division. I’m waiting to see what team I’ll play on: I could play on Generation Next of course, but there’s also some discussion to maybe get some of the National team players to play together as there will be a team from New Zealand coming over and it’ll be a chance for us to play a team from overseas. I’m looking forward to it!

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If you want to watch the upcoming Mega Ice Hockey 5s starting on 30 April at Kowloon Bay Mega Box, it’s open to public. Check out Christie and her team and women’s hockey in HK!

Thank you to Andy Yeung, Halo Studio and Women Ice Hockey Organization.