PU Hockey’s Fogarty, Hun’s McNally Grow the Game, Coaching at ECAC Hockey/Princeton Camp in China
CHINESE LESSON: Ian McNally, left, instructs players at a camp in China this summer. Hun School boys’ hockey head coach and former Princeton University player McNally took part in the ECAC Hockey/Princeton camps in Beijing and Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.
By Bill Alden
Ron Fogarty helped guide the Princeton University men’s hockey team from the ECAC Hockey cellar to the NCAA tournament, while Ian McNally has built the Hun School boys’ program into a local powerhouse as it has won five straight Mercer County Tournament titles.
This July, the two coaches flew nearly 7,000 miles across the world to help grow the game they love as they took part in the ECAC Hockey/Princeton camp in China.
For Fogarty, the experience reinforced his view of sports as a unifying force.
“There are different languages and barriers but sports is a common language and there are no barriers,” said Fogarty.
“You show them a drill and you break it down a little bit more than you would. Sports is awesome because it can pull people together from halfway across the world, which it did.”
In working with his Chinese charges, Fogarty emphasized playing together on the ice.
They are very good skaters, they have very good individual skills but the they are below average on team play,” said Fogarty.
“You look at all of the Chinese success in the Olympics, the vast majority is through individual sports. They are still trying to grasp the concept that it is a team sport and that you maneuver up the ice in units of five.”
Fogarty, who was also joined at the camp by Princeton director of hockey operations Kevin Moore, American International College coach Mike Towns, and ECACH commissioner Steve Hagwell in addition to McNally, tried to open the players’ eyes to being patient and opportunities to play in North America.
“It is a late developing sport,” said Fogarty, noting that some players have left China to play for prep school and college programs in the U.S. and Canada in order to hasten their development.
“A lot of the parents of 11and 12-year-olds think if the players weren’t the best they say we are going to quit hockey when they don’t realize you still have six, seven more years to keep developing. It is a different mindset and culture change to understand what hockey is all about.”
Off the ice, Fogarty gained a greater understanding of Chinese culture.
“The Great Wall was unbelievable; I had seen pictures, but explaining the experience doesn’t give justice to what it is. The Forbidden City was immaculate,” said Fogarty, noting that his group also toured the facilities from the 2008 Summer Olympics.
“The best part is that I felt safe every day. The people were so genuine and accommodating; the perception I had going over was a 180 to the experience that I had.”
McNally, for his part, has been intrigued for a while about the growth of hockey in China.
“We get 400 applicants a year from China at Hun and we ended up taking some kids who played hockey; from three of those kids, I heard a little bit about the Beijing hockey scene,” said McNally.
“I learned about the Beijing Red Star team, which plays in the KHL in Russia. They are in their second year, it is some ex-NHL guys. I don’t think they are one of the better teams but it is a very legitimate program and it is running out in China. With those guys coming there and the Olympics are going back to Beijing in 2022, these things have spurred more interest.”
With the aid of Princeton classmate and former teammate Kevin Westgarth, who now works for the NHL, McNally got wind of the ECAC Hockey/Princeton camp and let Fogarty know he was interested in participating and was ultimately added to the coaching staff.
“The first week I was there, we were in Beijing,” recalled McNally.
“We helped the Beijing Hockey Association with their tryout for their select teams that go play internationally and then we did a hockey camp for four days.”
After his stint in Beijing, McNally met up with Princeton senior men’s hockey star Alex Riche to work a second camp in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.
“That was a secondary camp; it was still called ECAC/ Princeton with the same jerseys and there was still the Red Stars behind it because the women’s pro team plays out of Shenzhen in the Canadian women’s league.”
While honing the skills of the players, McNally also sharpened his coaching approach.
“What I got most out of it, especially in the second portion, was thinking a little more about what I am doing out there and how to make it run more smoothly and make the players understand what is going on,” said McNally, noting that there were no translators at the second camp as there had been in Beijing. “It was a real challenge figuring it out, even the most basic things.”
McNally is confident that the Chinese players got a lot out of the camps. “We hope that we piqued a little bit of interest, calling it the ECAC Princeton camp. It was being billed over there as ‘here comes the Princeton program,’” said McNally. “The kids were coming from their towns, staying at hotels and going to the camp.”
Based in his experience this summer, McNally is interested in making a return trip to China. “I don’t want it to be a one-time thing, I hope to come back,” said McNally.
In Fogarty’s view, the time is right for China to continue making strides in hockey.
“They are going in the right direction, they are trying to get NCAA coaches to go back next year and I will partake in that,” said Fogarty.
“Obviously with the Olympics coming in 2022, there is a big emphasis on hockey and they are making a big push to be relevant on that Olympic stage.”