Winter Olympics 2022: Chinese women's hockey goalie honors heritage with dragon-themed gear

Petr David Josek/AP

Hockey goalies are the rare athletes in team sports who can project personality through their choice of gear. That's no different at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Goalie masks have become works of art through the years, displaying references to players' history and family as well as pop culture iconography. Goalie pads offer an even larger canvas for attention-grabbing personalization.

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China goalie Zhou Jiaying -- known as Kimberly Newell to North American fans, as all foreign-born players for China have been given Chinese names -- is wearing personalized pads and blocker for the Beijing Olympics women's hockey tournament. She also has dragon-themed mask.

Newell, born in Vancouver, British Columbia, played NCAA hockey at Princeton before leaving in 2018 for the KRS Vanke Rays, a China-based team that played in the Canadian Women's Hockey League before moving to the Zhenskaya Hockey League, a women's league created by the KHL, a Moscow-based international league. She grabbed the attention of the hockey world when the International Ice Hockey Federation tweeted the image and it went viral before the tournament.

Chris Joswiak knows that gear well, having worked with Newell in designing it for the 26-year-old goalie.

"Kim wanted to honor her Chinese heritage with the 'Gold Dragons in the Forbidden City,'" said Joswiak, a pro and college service manager for Brian's Custom Sports in Ontario, Canada.

Newell's mother is Chinese and moved to Canada to pursue a doctorate. Newell still has family in China.

Her main note to the gear designers: "I want a Chinese person to look at the pads and immediately think, 'That's a Chinese dragon!'"

Newell helped create the pads by sending Joswiak several examples of Chinese-style dragons that could convey the essence of what she was looking for in her gear.

Joswiak said Newell wanted the dragons to pop on her gear by using multiple shades and materials of gold: weave, metallic and Jenpro, the synthetic leather used in most goalie pads. "She wanted the dragons to be proportionate and properly fit on the equipment," said Joswiak.

The in-house design team at Brian's Custom Sports worked up multiple templates for Newell before she ultimately approved the gear that she's wearing in the Olympic tournament. She also wore her dragon pads in the run-up to the Olympics while playing for the Rays.

To make sure she had them for the season, Joswiak said gear that typically takes about 8 to 10 weeks to build was made for her in less than two weeks.

Because it doesn't pay IIHF branding rights fees, her gear doesn't have any Brian's Custom Sports logos. Tia Chan, the other goalie for Team China, also wears its gear.

Wearing her custom dragon pads, Newell stopped 22 of 23 shots in China's win over Denmark on Friday, her nation's first preliminary-round win since February 1998. The Chinese will face Japan at 3:40 a.m. ET Sunday.