Andong Song is the name you cannot leave out when talking about hockey in China. He was drafted 172nd overall in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL entry draft by the New York Islanders. That made him the first Chinese-born hockey player to be drafted in the NHL.
The 18-years-old Song, who started playing hockey when he was 6, became well-known in China following the draft. In 2015, Song and Yao Ming became the ambassadors for the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Winter Olympics.
Last September, Song went back to the U.S. and joined the Madison Capitols of the United States Hockey League (USHL), a top North American junior hockey league.
"Time flies," Song said in a phone interview. "I've been here for five months already."
Song was not totally comfortable with the team's training and schedule when he started. The USHL games are usually scheduled Friday and Saturday. He has dryland training Monday and ice training Tuesday through Thursday.
"They play fast and physically," Song said. "They play much better [than in China]."
Song did not give up, though, and finally earned his coach's trust. With more playing time, he became a defenseman in the third group, wearing No. 94.
"After training I'll stay and practice more on shooting and on how to keep my head up while playing," Song said. "I'm getting strong as well."
Most players taken in the draft don't go to the NHL right away. Song recently decided to attend and play for Cornell University.
"I feel pressure [because] everyone knows me and what I'm going to do," he said. "But it's also a motivation that helps me determine my NHL dream."
Alone in the U.S., Song missed his friends as they played in New Zealand for the under-20 world juniors hockey championship in January. He used to be the captain for Team China, and even now he still wants to play for his country. China lost to Turkey 2-1 in the Division III final.
Living in Madison seems to fit Song well. After training, Song goes to movies or practices his calligraphy.
"I broke off [practicing calligraphy] for a long time because I had to study," Song said. "Now I have more time to practice my calligraphy."
Above everything else, though, he still has one dream: Beijing-Zhangjiakou in 2022.
"My dream has never changed," Song said. "I want to play for China one day in the Olympics."