King City’s Steven Li shares how hockey brought him to Canada

January 22, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Robert Belardi

It might be cliché to re-iterate that sports brings people together. To stretch it even further, that sports is a lifestyle.
To some, this is a mediocrity of the game. To others, it is the reality, that binds their whole motive in life together.
When Stephen Li was growing up in Beijing, China he was practicing how to skate. With his mother at his sister’s figure skating practice, he saw something that would spark his interest in what he wanted to do in life – to play hockey.
“I just saw the player putting on all the padding and stuff. All the equipment like the chest pads, the elbow pad, the helmet with the gloves and the stick. I’ve never seen that before, that’s really cool. He looked different than everyone else,” explained Li.
Li told his mom he wanted to play hockey. In China at the time, hockey was not a popular sport and Beijing only had four rinks in the area and three local teams competing for fun.
As the game developed in China, Li developed into a skilled winger, playing hockey three years above his age group. His parents quickly noticed his talents on the ice and asked him if he wanted to move to Canada to play.
On October 18, 2011, the dream became a reality as the family arrived in Canada.
He tried out for the Duffield Devils and was amazed by the level of talent. Li felt he had to improve to compete with the other children here. He considered himself mid to lower tier.
To improve, Li would have morning practices and evening practices with the team. In addition, he would have his own practice session in his garage.
Yet hockey wasn’t Li’s biggest challenge in Canada.
“Language was the biggest thing for me. When other players talk to me, they wanted me to pass and I thought they wanted me to shoot. Watching the game really helped me a lot.”
After the Duffield Devils, Li went on to play for the AAA Toronto Titans, Mississauga Rebels, Don Mills Flyers and finally, ending up in Junior A with the Aurora Tigers.
His journey exemplifies the progress he has made as a player and a person, immersing himself into the Canadian culture and succeeding in it.
Now, Li, 16, speaks English fluently. Li and his family live in King City and he’s been attending The Country Day School in King, since Grade 7. He said there were other choices such as St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, but CDS was the right fit for him.
Along his path, he never forgot his roots. This past summer, Li represented team Beijing in the Chinese Olympics that occurs every four years.
Later this month, Li is returning to China once again to join the U18 Chinese national team. There is a competition in February that is essentially the preliminary round to qualify for the IIHF division two championships in March.
He attended a practice in New York City over the Christmas break, meeting some of his new teammates. Some are from the BCHL, others play double-A and Triple-A, all here in Canada. He also met his coaches and was surprised at the personnel behind the bench.
“There was not one-staff on the bench that was Chinese. They’re all Russian. The language is difficult again to understand,” Li said.
“They speak Russian and there is an interpreter. In Russia they have their own hockey terms but when it is translated to Mandarin, it’s a lot different.”
As China continues to develop their hockey program, Li and other players continue to influence young Chinese people to play the game. Li’s younger brother is returning to Canada on Jan. 25, from a tournament in China.
In his free time, Li watches his favourite team, the Edmonton Oilers and his favourite player is Brendan Gallagher from the Montreal Canadiens.
He says he tries to mirror Gallagher’s play. Both players are similar in size and boast a lot of confidence on the ice.
Li has returned from a concussion and is back on the ice for the Tigers.
So far this season, in 29 games played, Li has recorded four goals.
With two years left in school, Li hopes to attend Cornell University in New York. If hockey doesn’t pan out for him, he has aspired to potentially open up a restaurant here in Canada like his family has in China, or open his own aerospace engineering company.



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