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China in danger of Olympics ice hockey axe

The players hoping to make China’s men’s hockey team for next year’s Beijing Olympics lost a second trial game against a Russian club, as uncertainty builds over whether they will be allowed to play at the Winter Games.

International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) officials observed Kunlun Red Star’s 4-1 loss to Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.

The Chinese team’s 5-4 overtime loss to Amur Khabarovsk in another KHL game two days earlier was also used to assess the competitive strength of the team.

Kunlun have a 7-22 record in the Russia-based league.

Kunlun coach Ivano Zanatta said the games were evidence his team meets the Olympic standard.

However, IIHF president Luc Tardif told reporters in Canada that the governing body and International Olympic Committee would decide next week whether China would be granted permission to play in Beijing.

“Definitely not second to a Norway or a Denmark or Latvia. We’re equal to those countries,” Zanatta said.

“Today and the last game they proved they have the character and the ability and they have the right to participate in their own Olympics.”

Denmark and Latvia qualified for Beijing.

Norway is the highest-ranked unqualified team – and a possible replacement if China doesn’t play.

China are using Kunlun as a proxy for the national team.

Most of the roster consists of North American-born players who league records list as having taken Chinese nationality. More players could be naturalised in time for the Olympics.

Former Detroit Red Wings defenceman Jake Chelios – son of NHL hall of famer Chris Chelios – scored Kunlun’s only goal.

China have never previously competed in a men’s Olympic hockey tournament.

They most recently played in the fourth-highest division of the IIHF world championships in 2019, before it naturalised foreign-born players.

It’s unclear how many foreign-born players could represent China.

The IIHF has refused to say which Kunlun players are eligible – Chelios, for example, is listed as a US player in KHL records – and Tardif has said the IIHF needs to confirm player eligibility.

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