SUNRISE, Fla. - The Islanders made history late Saturday in the NHL Draft when they chose AnDong Song, the first Chinese-born player to be selected.
Song's winding journey took him from his early years learning the game in his native Beijing to Oakville, Ontario, where he moved with his family at age 10 to develop his hockey career. He went on to Lawrenceville Prep in New Jersey, where he's been the past four years. From there, he plans to attend Philips Andover Academy for a post-graduate year and then head to a Division I college program.
His stop at the BB&T Center to be selected by the Islanders was surreal for Song, who was trailed every step of the way by a camera crew from CCTV, a Chinese network.
"Being the first Chinese player, it's a lot of pressure from people back home, and good pressure," Song said. "That'll motivate me to become a better player and hopefully make them proud."
Song said he goes back to Beijing for the summer and the winter school holiday break. When he left China eight years ago, there were barely any hockey rinks in Beijing. He learned the game on short-track speed skating ovals.
"But last year when I went back, it's just been tremendous how far they've grown," Song said. "I'm sure they'll keep trying to catch up to North America and Europe and Russia. There's still a little gap between them. I'm sure if we focus on hockey, we can definitely catch up."
The 6-foot, 161-pound defenseman played youth hockey in Oakville, a Toronto suburb that also happens to be John Tavares' hometown. But Song idolized a different NHLer growing up.
"Nick Lidstrom, that's who I always wanted to be like," Song said of the Red Wings' star defenseman.
With a TV crew in tow and an entire nation watching, Song already felt the bright lights on him Saturday.
"I feel like a star already," he said with a laugh. "Long way to go."