When you take a look at popular American sports such as athletics, swimming and ice hockey, you seldom see Asian athletes in the big leagues. Canadian-born Chinese ice hockey player Zachary Yuen is one of that minority.
Yuen began ice skating when he was two years old, and started playing hockey when he was three – and he’s never looked back. He spoke to Young Post about being the first ever Chinese athlete to be drafted in the National Hockey League, the highest level of men’s hockey in North America.
“It’s definitely different being the only Asian playing hockey,” Yuen says. “It’s great that my team is such a close group. We meet and practise every day, and we play hard together.
“Outside of the game, we also hang out, have dinner and watch movies. New faces become people that you feel very comfortable with within a week.”
KGV's Ashwin Mahtani has breakfast with Chelsea FC's Willian
Yuen places a lot of emphasis on being a team player.
“As a coach building a team, you want guys who are willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good. That’s what I try to show the coach, and I think that’s one of my greatest strengths.”
Yuen says he’s lucky to be a part of such a mature and accepting team, and that it’s easy to uphold the spirit of the game when working with them.
“The best thing about hockey is that you get to share the game with your friends,” he says.
Now 23, Yuen’s dedication to being an active defenceman makes him a formidable player, and although his role is to prevent goals from reaching his team’s net, he’ll never miss an opportunity to help set up a goal.
“As a defenceman, I don’t necessarily need [to join] the rush, but one of my biggest strengths is my offensive game and helping to get the puck out ... to our forwards so they can attack,” he says.
When asked about his ups and downs, Yuen’s motto is the same as his advice to young athletes: “keep on an even keel”. He stresses that they need to understand that everything that happens is just part of the job.
“Sometimes things don’t go your way. When the team is down, you have to stick to the game plan – keep pushing and try to get past, try to get some momentum and turn things around. You may have to change your game plan a little bit sometimes.”
He says a similar thing is true of promoting the sport – players have got to think differently to get people interested.
“I think [Hong Kong Amateur Hockey Association director] Thomas Wu is doing a great job building it from the bottom up. You have to do a lot of exposure of the sport here in Hong Kong and show the people what hockey is, first,” he says.
“Let them play and give them opportunities so they have the chance to learn to love the game and to pass that love on in the future.”
Yuen has never forgotten his roots and works tirelessly to give back to the community. While he is in the city, Yuen will share his unique experience of life as a Chinese professional hockey player with young Hong Kong fans at the Jockey Club Ice Hockey Generation Next programme next month.
Who is your favourite athlete?
Tennis player Roger Federer. I think he is very mature when dealing with fans, and gives back to the community. Apart from his skills, his work ethic is a big part of his career. As a professional athlete, you owe a lot to the community and you need to be responsible, so I think he’s a very good role model.
What movie character are you most like when you’re playing your sport?
Batman – because he’s kind of sneaky on the offence, like he comes out of nowhere.
What food would you never give up?
Fried rice. I grew up on it.