By: Aliocha Perriard-Abdoh
A pair of Simon Fraser University hockey players are poised for the first puck drop of their professional hockey careers with the Kunlun Red Star team based in Beijing, China.
The players Jordan Liem from Surrey and Jared Eng from North Vancouver have signed on with the Kontinental Hockey League, an international hockey organization that encompasses teams from Russia as well as other European and Asian nations.
Liem totalled 48 games over three seasons as a goalie for the SFU hockey team and signed a three-year deal with Kunlun Red Star, while Eng, who spent two seasons as a defenceman for SFU, has accepted a one-year contract.
Liem and Eng are looking forward to their start, playing with the Kunlun Red Star Heilongjiang team from Harbin, China in the coming season.
“[I am excited about] the competitiveness and the skill in this league, especially as a goalie,” said Liem, who is 24. “Things happen quick in front of you and I think it will just be really exciting and fun to see how fast . . . the second-best league in the world is and what that looks like.”
“It’s exciting to start with a fresh team, fresh guys, and it’s exciting to see where we can take it,” Eng, also 24, added.
The signings are part of China’s bid to build up its hockey program in anticipation of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, according to SFU Hockey.
This is an impressive feat for the pair because breaking into the pro league requires a huge commitment of time, work ethic, and dedication. SFU’s hockey head coach Mark Coletta said the players put in no less than “three hours of training every day both on the ice and off the ice, in the weightroom.”
Eng played with the SFU Clan between 2013–15 and spent the past season with the Division II team in Sweden. Liem has been with the SFU team since 2014.
The players are aware of the possible challenges ahead and anticipate the culture shock associated with moving to China. Though both Liem and Eng have Chinese ancestry, they are Canadian-born.
Coach Coletta notes that the duo make an excellent pair. Liem is a talented goaltender with a “real knack for playing his best under pressure,” said Coletta. “Some of his best performances were in the [National Collegiate Athletic Association] last season against some very tough competition.”
Eng joined the SFU team three seasons ago. “He’s a good defenseman,” said Coletta. “[Eng] skates really well and has an offensive gift about him which separates him from other players.”
“It’s no question that Jared can skate at that level,” Coletta continued. “He’s not a real big kid, so he might have to get more physical than he’s used to, but that’s just normal once you get to the pro game.”
While the level of play will be higher than both players are used to, Coletta is confident in the players’ abilities and hopes that “they are able to make the adjustment [because] playing pro is a little bit different.”
“Hopefully, we gave them a few tools to succeed,” Coletta said.
Liem and Eng spoke highly of their dynamics as teammates, which makes the pairing a winning combination. The ability of both players to pay attention to each other and communicate on the ice is what makes the difference and makes it so that they don’t get scored on as much, emphasised Liem.
Eng said that the communication factor is going to be even bigger when playing for Kunlun Red Star. “Some of the guys [on the team] don’t speak English so it really helps having someone that you know to communicate with,” he noted.
Liem attributes his success on the ice to years of practice as part of the SFU Clan and fitting training into set time slots.
“When you’re a student athlete, you find that you don’t have very much time, so you end up getting even more focused with your training,” Liem explained.
Eng added that he extends his thanks to his parents and past coaches. “That’s a lot of time spent in the rink, a lot of time spent on road trips,” he said.