Chinese fall short of goal

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

As the final buzzer sounded, three players with the Qiqihar Snow Leopards fell to the ice face first, overcome with disappointment in the result.

Of the three teams from China that travelled across the globe to participate in the Bell Capital Cup, the Snow Leopards advanced farther than the others.

They came close to making it to a championship final, but lost 3-2 to the Prescott-based South Grenville Rangers in an Atom House B division semi-final at the Bell Sensplex.

Overtime loomed after the Snow Leopards tied the game in the third period when Zhang Cheng scored his 11th goal of the tournament.

But the Qiqihar team received back-to-back penalties late in the period, and it cost them when Rangers defenceman Tyson Kirkby scored the winning goal with 1:22 remaining.

The Snow Leopards travelled 12,000 km. for the tournament, and ended up playing against a team from a city located 300 km. from their home in a quarter-final.

In what became the tournament's unofficial Battle of China -- and an unexpected special event -- Qiqihar beat the Harbin Red Stars 3-0.

Once tournament organizers realized that two of the Chinese teams would be facing off against each other, special arrangements were made for the game.

To commemorate the occasion, retired RCMP officer Garth Hampson arrived in formal Mountie attire to sign O Canada before the opening faceoff.

"We felt very emotional when he was signing that song,'' Qiqihar coach Hou Wencai said through an interpreter. ''Everybody in Canada has been so friendly and wonderful to us."

The tournament is over for the Snow Leopards and the Red Stars, but they still have highlights to look forward to on their trip.

They'll depart Ottawa for New York this morning and spend time in the Big Apple, attend a New York Islanders game and stage a reprise of the Battle of China -- this time on American soil -- before returning home later this week.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Islanders co-owner Charles Wang spearheaded the trip, sending the team's GM Mike Milbury on an international mission to the Chinese cities last summer to make arrangements.

"We want to thank Charles Wang for what he has done for us," said Hou. "We are all very grateful."

Members of both teams met the Islanders prior to Friday night's NHL game between New York and the Senators.

Meanwhile, the Sinocan Beijing Dragons, the other Chinese entry in the Bell Capital Cup, lost a first-place showdown against the Stittsville Predators 3-1 on Saturday and were prevented from advancing to the elimination round of Atom House A.

The Atom House B championship game goes today at the Corel Centre with the Rangers facing the South Stormont Mudhens (11:20 a.m.).

South Stormont advanced to the final with a 2-0 victory over the Iqaluit Blizzard of Nunavut.

barre.campbell@ott.sunpub.com


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