Like many high-school hockey players, Stephen Chen is looking forward to the Olympic tournament.
The U.S. men will see their first action of the Olympic Games Thursday morning against China. Game time is set for 8:10 a.m. Eastern Time but Chen, a junior goaltender at The Hun School, is hoping to follow the action in some way, shape, or form.
A native of Beijing, Chen is looking forward to seeing the Chinese national team make history.
“It’s definitely a special feeling,” he said, “especially considering this is the first time the men’s team has ever competed in the Olympic Games. Even if the Chinese national team can’t squeak out a win, even scoring a goal would be a very special moment.”
Chen started playing hockey at the age of 5 ½. He’s been a goaltender from the start.
“When I started my coaches said ‘This kid’s pretty chubby so he can fill the net,” he recalls “but I fell in love with the position since then.
Chen emigrated to Southern California at age 10 and continued his hockey career there. When it came time for high school he sought a school on the East Coast that was strong academically and would allow him to pursue his hockey ambitions. He applied to a number of schools before being accepted at and enrolling at The Hun School (An older brother is a college graduate and living in California).
Chen has returned to China twice in the years since, most recently in the summer of 2019 to tend goal for a team that represented Beijing and won the 18-and-under division of the Chinese national championship tournament.
“Representing my hometown, it was a special feeling,” he said, “because you’re playing a sport you love, but also getting to represent the people you grew up with in your city and all the ideals your city represents and what you believe your city represents as well.
“Playing for that was a special feeling and being able to win the tournament at the end was beyond amazing.”
Chen, who is 16, notes that hockey has grown in popularity in his homeland during his lifetime.
“Obviously, it cannot be compared to the very developed systems and teams and whatnot in North America,” he said. “But, I think it’s a definitely growing market. There’s a lot talented young kids that are just getting to the game of hockey in China.
“Although hockey is a very old game I would have to say that I am one of the earlier generations of hockey players in China recent years.
“It’s definitely a developing market. It’s not as complete as other countries but I think there is already a certain skill level there.”
Chen notes that Beijing is home to the Kunlun Red Star, which competes in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), although the team relocated to Russia to ease travel in preparation for the Olympics. Red Star players makes up the bulk of the Chinese Olympic roster, which included three Americans and 10 Canadians.
Besides watching the Olympic tournament as a fan, Chen will be watching each team’s goaltenders and hoping to pick up traits to add to his own game.
“I definitely watch out for some technical details that goaltenders really focus on and normal people wouldn’t,” he said. “The depth a goaltender takes when it’s a two on one or two on two, odd man rushes, those kind of small things are what I notice.
“But, other than that, I definitely still enjoy the game just from the average fan’s viewpoint.”
Unsurprisingly Chen would like to represent his homeland in international completion one day.
“I think it’s every kid’s dream to represent their country,” he said, “and I’m no exception. It’s a wish to represent the country at the highest level someday in the future.
“I’m already part of the U-20 China national team, so that’s a pretty good start for me already but yeah I definitely look forward to one day wearing that sweater and playing for all the people I love back home.”