May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada and for 2020 the theme is “United in Diversity”, which is inspired by the long history of Asian-Canadians who continue to enrich our country and make it a more vibrant, inclusive and compassionate society. The Winnipeg Emperors Hockey Club and all of its members surely do that, by bringing players of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Laotian, Korean and Filipino heritage together to share their love of hockey with each other.
The Emperors are an Asian-based team representing Winnipeg that was established in 2010 when three members from the Winnipeg Chinese Alliance Church League found out about the Asian Hockey Championship (AHC) in Toronto. The team’s founder, Allan Chan signed on with a team in Toronto that was looking for players and he was blown away by the calibre and sheer size of the tournament. Back in 2010, the AHC consisted of five men’s divisions, a women’s division and a kids division. The tournament has now grown to 70 teams and over 1,000 players.
“We started as just three guys wanting to play hockey in the AHC in 2010. Fast forward to 2020 and the future, we now ice one adult team and have kids coming from Winnipeg to the tournament to play in the kids division,” Allan Chan said. “We have probably had 70 players at one time or another as part of the Emperors Hockey Club. The skill levels of the team have ranged from rec, AAA Midget, Junior B and MMJHL.”
The Emperors iced a full Winnipeg team for the first time in 2011 and by 2013 they brought three squads to the AHC, to play in various divisions. The Emperors won the Intermediate division that year and in the following years the Emperors made it to the Championship Finals in 2016 and 2017. The Emperors won the Veteran Lower 35 + Division in 2018 and in 2019 were Finalists in the Over 30 Division.
Last weekend, The Emperors were scheduled to travel to Toronto for their annual trip to play in the AHC but the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Starting each fall, the Emperors hold skates every second Thursday night at the Winnipeg Winter Club and come January or February, the team scrimmages against various rec hockey league teams around the city in preparation for the AHC. The majority of the players on the Emperors also play on other rec hockey league teams across the city and the composition of the team changes from year to year but a core group of six players, including Chan, has always remained.
Chan has seen a small growth in kids of Asian heritage who play hockey in Winnipeg over the past 10 years since the Emperors began but believes that there can be a multipronged approach to involving Asian communities in minor hockey.
“I think there could be an outreach program where we have a “try hockey day” for older players who have never played and for the younger kids who may have just arrived in Canada or are first generation kids who’s parents have immigrated, perhaps a weekly camp introducing them to the basics of hockey in their native language” Chan said.
When you consider Chan’s family background and how he first started playing hockey, his journey is truly remarkable. His family immigrated from Hong Kong to Winnipeg’s inner city in the 1970’s and they had virtually no knowledge of hockey. Chan started playing at around the age of 12 by skating outdoors in Central Park.
“They would have a pleasure rink and we would use our snow boots as goal posts as there were no nets or boards. It was there that I fell in love with just playing hockey. I progressed to rec leagues and still play at least once a week to this day.” Chan said.
Chan’s 10-year-old son Brayden started skating at age two, played with the World 3-on-3 program and has progressed through the River East Minor Hockey Association, playing this past season for the River East Royals 9A1 Grey.
“I have been coaching him since Timbits to present. It allows me to spend quality time with him and to build relationships within the community,” Chan said.
As Canadians across the country gather to celebrate Asian Heritage Month, The Emperors embodiment of teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship and work ethic/self discipline on and off the ice has served as a beacon of light for members of Winnipeg’s Asian community and is sure to inspire future generations of young hockey players.
The Emperors welcome all players of Asian descent who are interested in hockey. You can contact Allan Chan (firstname.lastname@example.org) about future teams of varying ages and skill levels.