Feature: Phoenix burns for ice hockey in northwest China's Ningxia
YINCHUAN, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- With lights dimmed in a large shopping center in northwest China's Ningxia, members of Phoenix ice hockey team began their game on the indoor rink.
"Bang!" A player in blue dashed against the board and soon found his way to the opponents' goal.
During the break, players took off their helmets to wipe their sweat and drink water, with the hair of most players graying at the temples.
The amateur ice hockey team named Phoenix has been playing in Ningxia's capital Yinchuan for more than half a century. It currently has 20 players from all walks of life, such as policemen, engineers and teachers, with an average age of above 50.
The Phoenix has witnessed the rapid development of Ningxia in tandem with the rise of winter sports in this region that used to suffer from underdevelopment and drought.
In 1950s, the now 86-year-old Pu Zhenhuan, who retired from the team years ago, had just graduated from Beijing Sport University, and came to Ningxia by train like many other youngsters to answer the nation's call of "Supporting The Northwest". He became one of the first batch of physical culture workers here.
People in Ningxia had little entertainment at that time, especially during the long freezing winter. Therefore, the frozen lake in the city park was a popular destination, where people could play on ice.
Youngsters from Beijing and northeast China not only brought in manpower to Ningxia, but also introduced winter sports such as skating and ice hockey.
Seeing Pu and his friends playing ice hockey, some locals were attracted and joined the team. The team also took part in games on behalf of Ningxia during the last century.
45-year-old Pu Yang is the son of Pu Zhenhuan, and is now the captain of Phoenix. From early childhood, Pu Yang began to play ice hockey under the guidance of his father.
"When I was a boy, my favorite season was winter, because the lake would be frozen and I could have some place to have fun," he said.
The rapid development of Yinchuan has offered more places for people to enrich their daily lives, such as indoor stadiums, libraries and shopping malls. The frozen lake lost its appeal, which disappointed Phoenix players for a while. However, skating and chasing the puck on ice still held considerable appeal.
The protective clothing and helmets were not as good as those of today, and the outdoor ice did not protect players like indoor ice. According to Pu Yang, almost every player got injured at least once, with some even breaking their legs and losing their teeth, but no one quit.
"Once you fall in love with ice hockey, you can never quit," Pu Yang said, adding that the sport has made them braver and tougher.
To their delight, Yinchuan's first indoor ice rink was built a decade ago, and the players don't have to wait until winter to enjoy themselves. Since then, they have made each Tuesday their game day.
As a policeman, Pu Yang said each Tuesday night is a chance to release stress. "I feel very happy when we finish the game," he said.
The upcoming 2022 Beijing Olympic Games has popularized winter sports nationwide, and China has been at full steam to realize its goal of engaging 300 million people in winter sports.
In recent years, two college graduates majoring in ice hockey have joined Phoenix, and the professional skills and experience they brought in helped the team do well in an invitational tournament held in Qiqihar, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province this August.
"It's the first time for many of our old players to play the game outside," Pu Yang said. "Their dream has been realized, and they are more active in training now." Enditem