Richmond blueliner helps China win gold at World tourney

Julius Zhang serves as assistant captain for Chinese team that goes unbeaten at U18 Division 3A Championships

His Grade 7 buddy at Dixon Elementary School turned out to be one the most accomplished hockey players ever to come out of Richmond. Now, Julius Zhang is making a name for himself with the Chinese national program.
The 17-year-old defenceman helped China capture gold at the recent U18 Division 3A World Junior Hockey Championships in Chinese Taipei. Zhang served as assistant team captain and managed eight points in five games as his team rolled to an unbeaten record to earn promotion to the Division 2B group in 2018.
Zhang and his family moved to Canada when he was four. He attended Dixon and partnered up with none other than Vancouver Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher as his Grade 7 buddy.
“Little did I know he would become a top defenceman with the Vancouver Canucks,” grinned Zhang. “It’s pretty cool realizing this guy who was my big buddy who would go on to play junior ‘A,’ college hockey then in the NHL. Just following his journey and seeing how successful he has become.”
With Zhang’s closest friends all playing hockey at the time, he decided to sign-up too. He would go on to thrive at the sport — playing for rep teams with Seafair and Richmond Minor. He spent one year at the Elite 15 level in the Delta Hockey Academy before jumping to major midget with the Greater Vancouver Canadians. He was affiliated with the Nanaimo Clippers of the B.C. Hockey League and spent last season living in the Island city, playing for their junior “B” team.
The plan is to land a full-time spot with a BCHL team this fall. At the same time, he will continue to pursue opportunities with the Chinese national program. He will be eligible to play for its U20 team next year and wants more Chinese Canadians to realize the opportunities that await overseas.
“There are a lot of Chinese kids living with their families here in Richmond. Not many of them think about hockey or, even if they do, their families might not know much about it. I want to be an example for them,” said Zhang.
“My goal is to be a pioneer for younger players and be an inspiration to them. Someone to look up to like Troy Stecher was to me.”
Since being rewarded the 2022 Winter Olympics which assures spots in the men’s and women’s tournaments as the host nation, China has amped up its ice hockey program in a big way.
The men’s program hired coach Aleksander Barkov through the ’22 Games. His main duties is to oversee the U18 and U20 national teams.
Hockey’s exposure is growing off the ice too thanks to the Beijing-based Red Star Kunlun being part of the KHL. The NHL is paying attention too with the Canucks and LA Kings slated to pre-season games next September in Shanghai and Beijing.
“More and more rinks are being built there. When they want something, it gets done, where here it’s more of a process. We were lucky to be working with really good coaches like Barkov,” continued Zhang.
“One of my goals now is to represent my country again. The cool thing is China is one of the only countries that doesn’t allow dual citizenship. The moment you get a Canadian passport, you are done.”
It was through the efforts and contacts of Zhang’s father Johnny that led to his national team opportunity. He flew to Beijing back in December to participate in an initial tryout camp that featured three full teams of prospects. He was among 30 players who received an invite to the main two-week training camp in February that cut his junior “B” season short. He then made a third and final trip back to China to prepare for the world tourney that also included Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Chinese Taipei and New Zealand. China dominated the tournament, defeating Turkey 11-1 in the final and surrendering just one goal over five games.
“The tournament had countries that really aren’t known for hockey but it was just a cool experience to be part of it and representing your country,” added Zhang.

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