SUNRISE, Fla. -- With their sixth-round pick, the New York Islanders made history by choosing Andong Song, the first Chinese player to be selected in the NHL draft.
The defenseman, who goes by the name "Misha," started playing hockey on a smaller-than-normal rink in Beijing when his mother was trying to find him a sport. Song, who attends the prestigious Lawrenceville prep school in New Jersey, left China at age 10 to move to Ontario in hopes of playing professional hockey one day.
That dream came one step closer to reality when the Islanders called his name Saturday afternoon on the second day of the draft at the BB&T Center.
"Feels like I'm a star already," said Andong, who was followed by a Chinese television crew Saturday. "But, long way to go."
The fact he's made it this far is something in itself.
When his family moved to Ontario and coaches there heard that a Chinese boy was trying out, there was plenty of skepticism. He proved himself at each level, and was an assistant captain this past season on the varsity at Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
The 18-year-old Andong, who plays on one of China's national teams, plans to attend Philips Andover Academy in Massachusetts this coming school year as a postgraduate student.
After that, he expects to play college hockey.
"I'm really honored to be the first Chinese player to be drafted," Andong said. "It's been great so far."
He hasn't yet met Islanders owner and governor Charles B. Wang, who was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with his family as a boy. Andong said he and his agent were aware of interest from the Islanders for some time, but didn't absolutely know for certain that he was getting picked until his name was called.
"Being the first Chinese player, it's a lot of pressure from people back home, but good pressure," Andong said. "I hope that will motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I'll make them proud."
One of his earliest memories is watching the U.S. play against Russia at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. China is trying to land the 2022 Winter Games, which is one of many reasons why the game seems to be growing there rapidly.
"When I started playing there weren't a lot of people playing there and not much support for the game," said Andong, whose brother still plays in Beijing. "But last year when I went back, it'd been like eight years since I've seen Chinese hockey, it's just been tremendous how far they've grown. I'm sure they'll keep trying to catch up to North America and Europe and Russia, but there's still a little gap."
According to several reports, millions of people were watching the historic selection back home in Song's native China.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.