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Midwest meets East

Tulsa youth hockey players enjoy trip of a lifetime to China 

Five Tulsa Jr. Oilers team members played in the CCM Cup Beijing International Youth Hockey Invitational

A group of young hockey players from Tulsa enjoyed the rare experience of playing in China recently, taking part in the CCM Cup Beijing International Youth Hockey Invitational from July 31 through Aug. 8.

 Five peewees from the Tulsa Jr. Oilers formed the core of a team called Stampede USA, which also included players from Oklahoma City and the Austin, Texas area.  They competed in the 2005 birth year age bracket against teams from all over the world, including another U.S.-based squad (San Diego Jr. Gulls), as well as those from Canada, Sweden, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, and of course, China. 

After winning three of its first five games to advance to the tournament’s second round, the Stampede wound up losing its final three contests to finish 3-5 overall. But it wasn’t the team’s performance on the ice that was the true focus of the memorable trip.

“We never expected we would win this tournament,” said Bob Welke, whose son Henry—a member of the Tulsa Jr. Oilers—played for the Stampede. “We knew there would be some really tough teams that had a lot shorter trip to get there than we did, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our guys now have a real understanding of what other countries are like and the way they live, and that kind of stuff. And it’s very satisfying to me, because you see a lot of kids, especially in this part of the country, never get to get outside of their own little realm. They have a very narrow view of the way the world works and for these guys to go that far and to see what the differences are, I think is absolutely invaluable.”

The tournament provided the team with its own translator and tour guide around Beijing, although the Stampede didn’t really need one.  That’s because one Tulsa player’s parents are from China, and in fact, was the primary reason the team was there at all. 

Yu Shuai, whose son Sean also plays on the Jr. Oilers, was born in China, speaks fluent Chinese and still has family there. So last December, when he first heard about the tournament, he initially attempted to persuade the entire Jr. Oilers squad to go.

“Mr. Shuai was informed last year that CCM, the manufacturer of equipment, was working with the Chinese to sponsor this first international youth tournament for kids 14 and under,” Welke explained. “So he talked to a couple of us dads and then we went about asking if the whole Tulsa team could go. That wasn’t possible, because obviously, this is a pretty heavy commitment in terms of money and time, so we got the guys who could and wanted to, and then we reached out to other teams that we play against in the Dallas Stars Travel Hockey League, and they responded, and we also knew this kid up in Toronto, so that’s how this whole thing got put together.”

In the end, Stampede USA consisted of five players from the Jr. Oilers (Henry Welke, Sean Shuai, Caeleb Burch, Marshall Nunnely, and Andrei Shapiro), two from the Oklahoma City Oil Kings, and seven more from the Austin-based Texas Jr. Stars, as well as the one player from Toronto. 

They were only able to practice twice as a team before heading overseas, but the players gradually gelled together from a disparate group of individual factions into a cohesive unit on the ice.  

They also enjoyed connecting with players from other countries who they couldn’t converse with, but shared the common love of hockey.

“When you’re a hockey player, you’re sort of in a little bit of a culture of your own,” Welke said. “It was very heart-warming that before every game, the guys would exchange little gifts, like pins. And after every game, each team would skate to the other end of the ice and bow to the parents in the stands. And after the tournament, the kids all ran around trading jerseys and pins and hats, so my son Henry came home with jerseys from a Korean team, an Indonesian team, and a Swedish team. He’s got those hanging up in his bedroom, he’s very proud of those.” 

And of course, the experience was about much more than just hockey, as the Americans did plenty of sightseeing and observed a culture different than their own. 

“We did just about everything,” Welke said. “We went to the Great Wall, we went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square—it was all great.”

For more from John, read his article on the Athletic's final game at Old Driller Stadium.