TEMPE – Arizona State’s hockey team is trading one wonder of the world this summer for another.
Before the Sun Devils begin their fourth NCAA Division I season, they’ll depart the Grand Canyon State on a journey that will take them to the very foot of the Great Wall of China.
Coach Greg Powers and the Sun Devils depart July 29 on the program’s first international trip. The Sun Devils are headed to Beijing, China where the team will take part in the Renaissance Cup, a five-team tournament that includes Beijing’s Kunlun Red Star of the Kontinental Hockey League and three teams from Russia’s Supreme Hockey League.
“We wanted to do something special for this year’s senior class,” Powers said. “These guys came in as our first full NCAA year. We wanted to do something really nice for them and take them overseas.”
Powers explained that possible destinations included Sweden, Switzerland and Germany, but China felt right because of the involvement the university already has with the country. For instance, the ASU men’s basketball team will play fellow Pac-12 program Colorado later this year in China.
Brinson Pasichnuk, a senior defenseman and captain of the Sun Devils, remembers Powers mentioning a foreign expedition when Pasichnuk was a sophomore.
“It’s exciting, it’s going to be such a cool experience and we’re all looking forward to it,” Pasichnuk said. “Personally, I’m looking forward to walking on the Great Wall. That’s something I’ve always dreamt of my whole life, not (from) a hockey standpoint, but as a friendship/brotherhood standpoint. I really hope this trip brings the team together.”
Off the ice, the team has plenty on its itinerary while in China. Besides visiting the Great Wall, ASU has included sightseeing trips to some of the country’s other landmarks such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Chaoyang District. The Sun Devils also will take in kung fu and acrobatics shows while in Beijing.
“We’re literally not leaving any stones unturned,” Powers said. “We’re going to get them the best experience that we can. The trip breaks up perfectly; we get there, we rest and recover, we focus on hockey for about a week and then those last few days are loaded with cultural experiences. It’ll be a trip of a lifetime for our guys.”
And the Sun Devils might have the perfect tour guide right on their team bus in China. Born in Beijing, redshirt freshman forward Peter Zhong will be playing only 10 minutes from his family’s house.
“Having the opportunity to play in front of my family, that makes it even more exciting for me,” Zhong said. “I had no idea that we were going in the first place until they told me. I was like ‘wow that’s pretty crazy.’ ”
One of three Chinese natives in NCAA Division I hockey, Zhong is expected to suit up for China in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. During ASU’s NCAA Tournament season a year ago, Zhong never saw the ice in game action, which will make the games in China even more special for him.
“It’s the ultimate piece of irony,” Powers said. “He came here, redshirted and the first Chinese-born player in the history of our program is actually going to play his first game in China.
“It’s pretty crazy. It’s just crazy how that worked out. Peter is a quiet kid. He stays to himself, but I can tell he’s pretty excited.”
Zhong already has fielded plenty of questions from his teammates. He has heard inquiries about the currency exchange, language and food from his fellow Sun Devils. His biggest piece of advice to them?
They shouldn’t expect to find Americanized Chinese food on every street corner during the team’s 13-day adventure — although Zhong was optimistic that his teammates will still enjoy the authentic cuisine of his birthplace.
Looking to build off its best season to date, ASU will return to the Grand Canyon State with hope that the foundation this year’s seniors have laid for the program is as enduring as that Great Wall.
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