Andong “Misha” Song, the first Chinese-born player drafted by a National Hockey League team and one of the faces of China’s 2022 Winter Olympics ice hockey effort, will play for Cornell University for the 2018-19 season.
China’s Andong Song at 2015 NHL Draft (Photo/William Douglas/Color of Hockey).
“I’m so happy to commit to Cornell,” Song said in a Madison Capitols statement. “It’s a great academic school and they have a great hockey program that will help me in the future so I couldn’t be more excited to go there.”
Song made history in 2015 when the New York Islanders chose the Beijing-born player in the sixth round of the NHL Draft with the 172nd overall pick.
Capitols Head Coach and General Manager Garrett Suter said Song has “done a lot of hard work on and off the ice this season to get where he’s at.”
“He’ll do great at Cornell, and I’m glad he’ll have one more year here (in Madison),” Suter said. “(We) still have a few things to work on, but still couldn’t be happier for the kid.”
Song has appeared in exhibition games for the Islanders and he hopes to crack the NHL team’s regular season roster someday. But but right now his focus is on getting better in the USHL, his upcoming collegiate career, and leading China’s national team at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
China isn’t an international hockey power and is quickly building its men’s and women’s hockey program in preparation of hosting the Winter Games. The impact of the Islanders drafting Song has been compared to the effect that former National Basketball Association center Yao Minghad in making basketball popular in the world’s most populous country.
A number of young hockey players have ventured from China to the United States and Canada to play high school or junior hockey since Song was drafted.
Song captained China’s 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Junior Championship Division II B team. He’s played 39 games for Madison this season and hasn’t registered a point. He played for Massachusetts’ Phillips Andover in 2015-16 and tallied 1 goal and 7 assists.
Saint John Sea Dogs left wing Bokondji Imama has gone from scrapper to sniper.
The rugged 20-year-old, the Tampa Bay Lightning’ssixth-round pick in the 2015 National Hockey League Draft, has a reputation as one of the fiercest fighters in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
But these days, Imama is scaring QMJHL goaltenders as much as opposing skaters. He has 27 goals and 10 assists in 40 QMJHL regular season games, up from 7 goals and 19 assists in 47 games during the 2015-16 season.
“I always try to prove to everyone that I’m not just a fighter, I’m also a player” Imama told me recently. “I consider myself as a power forward. This year, I’ve had a chance to prove it with the ice time that the coach gives me.”
Thanks to summer work on his shooting and skating, Saint John Sea Dogs forward Bokondji Imama is a serious scoring threat this season (Photo/David Connell/St. John Sea Dogs).
Imama is the Sea Dogs’ top goal-scorer this season, one ahead of right wing Mathieu Joseph – a Tampa Bay 2015 fourth-round draft pick who played on Canada’s Silver Medal-winningteam at the 2017 International Ice Hockey FederationWorld JuniorChampionship – and center Matthew Highmore.
Imama’s 37 points – the combination of goals and assists – makes him the team’s fourth-leading scorer. Highmore’s 65 points – 26 goals and 39 assists in 42 games- tops the team. Joseph, who signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Lightning before the World Juniors, is second with 26 goals, 24 assists in 31 regular season games.
Imama’s evolution from a bare-knuckled brawler to bar down goal scorer is also reflected by fewer trips to the penalty box. He has 62 penalty minutes so far this season.
What’s most striking is that Imama is fighting less this season. The website hockeyfights.com notes that he’s fought only three times in QMJHL games so far this season. He had one scrap for the Lightning in a September 2016 preseason game against the Nashville Predators.
Imama had five fights in 2015-16 and a whopping 15 bouts in the 2014-15 season, according to hockeyfights.com.
The change in Imama’s game is part of a plan to show that the Montreal native, the son of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa, is more than just a pair of fists as he completes his final QMJHL season and embarks on a professional hockey career.
“It started from my summer training, pretty much. I hired a skills coach, working on my offensive side, working on my power skating, working on my hands, working on my release,” the French-Canadian Imama told me recently. “The Saint John coach (Danny Flynn) has given me more responsibilities, putting me on the power play, putting me in different places. I’m doing great going to the net, putting puck on net.”
Lightning officials were impressed with what they saw of Imama offensively at the team’s development camp in Florida June 2016. He led a camp 3-on-3 tournamentwith 8 goals and tied Sea Dogs teammate Joseph for overall points in the tourney with 10.
Saint John Sea Dogs forward Bokondji Imama is putting the puck in the net more and fighting less, per instructions by the Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo/David Connell/Saint John Sea Dogs).
Still, Tampa Bay cut Imama during September’s training camp and sent him back to Saint John, the largest city in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. But the ‘Bolts organization gave him to-do list for his return to the Q.
“From the first day they released me from camp, it was clear: they don’t want to see me fight, they don’t want to see me get suspended,” Imama said. “They want to see me on the ice, working on my game, scoring goals obviously, making some good plays, being an effective hockey player for my team.”
By following their prescription, Imama says this has been his most rewarding season in the QMJHL.
But the 6-foot-1, 217-pound forward has no illusions about what will be expected of him in his pro career, whether it’s with Tampa Bay or its farm teams in the American Hockey Leagueor the ECHL.
“To be realistic, when I’m going to pro level, I’ll have to come back to myself, to be more of a grinder, more of a fighter,” he told me. “Right now, as a 20-year-old, I have the chance to play a more offensive dimension. So I’m pretty grateful and I’m having a lot of fun. But once I start playing pro, I have to get back to the old me, if I can say that.”
To that end, Imama looks to Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds and Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic – tough customers who are also elite goal scorers – for inspiration.
“Those kind of players, I love to watch them play,” he said. “They’re big guys, tough players, they bring size and meanness to their team. But also, the coach will put them in different situations.”
The 2015 NHL Draft will forever be considered one of the deepest drafts in league history in terms of talent. But it will also go down as one the richest drafts in terms of diversity.
Nine players of color were selected in the draft’s seven rounds. Yes, Connor McDavid had his name called by the Edmonton Oilers, and Jack Eichel’s by the Buffalo Sabres. But forward Jordan Greenwayalso got the call. So did Bokondji Imama, a two-fisted winger whose family hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ditto forward Andong Song, who carries the hockey aspirations of a nation on his New York Islanders jersey-clad shoulders. Here’s a look at some of the players chosen:
Jordan Greenway is wild about playing for Minnesota Wild – after attending college.
Greenway, a forward with the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Wild, the 50th player selected overall.
The 6-foot-4 player from Potsdam, N.Y., tallied five goals and 15 assists in 23 games last season for the NTDP’s United States Hockey League entry and nine goals and 35 assists in 53 games for the U.S. National Under-18 squad.
“I’m fortunate enough just to be here in the draft,” Greenway 18, told reporters after donning a Wild jersey. “Being drafted here is great. Everyone dreams of being in the NHL Draft one day. It’s just unbelievable.”
Greenway won’t be a stranger in the Twin Cities. He played three seasons for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a hockey power prep school about 57 miles south of St. Paul. But don’t look for Greenway in the NHL soon. He’s committed to playing hockey at Boston University this fall.
“I really like the city of Boston,” he said. “Playing college hockey or the (Ontario Hockey League) is a good route. For some people college hockey is a good route and for some people the OHL is a good route. I like school.”
Keegan Kolesar’s loss proved to be his gain at the draft. The Seattle Thunderbirds right wing was taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round with the 69th overall pick.
Kolesar worked hard to shed about 20 pounds off his 2013-14 playing weight. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Kolesar scored 19 goals and 19 assists in 64 games for Seattle. He also was a regular visitor to the penalty box with 85 minutes.
Keegan Kolesar (right) lost weight and put up the points for Seattle last season (Photo/Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds).
“The weight loss and dedication I put into training and nutrition really helped,” Kolesar told The Winnipeg Sun. “I’m a power forward in the truest sense. I think I’m one of the better forecheckers in the (Canadian Hockey League). I like to fight and I have a knack for the net and offensive instincts. I play well in all three zones.”
The Winnipeg Jets nabbed left wing Erik Foley in the third round with the 78th pick in the draft. Foley grew up a Boston Bruins fan in Mansfield, Mass., but is looking forward to starting a pro career with the Jets in “a real hockey hotbed.”
Erik Foley meets the press after being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets.
Foley scored 27 goals and 27 assists in 55 games last season with the USHL’s CedarRapids RoughRiders. “I’m a power forward,” he said. “I like to use my body, use my shot.”
Foley’s stock rose in the days leading to the draft. One USHL coach told The WinnipegSun that Foley was “probably the toughest player in the USHL to play against.”
Foley won’t be playing with Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien soon. He’ll be in Rhode Island playing for the Providence Friars, the reigning NCAA Frozen Four champs, this fall.
Right wing Mathieu Joseph had been to Florida only once before attending the draft. Now he may be calling the Sunshine State home after the Tampa Bay Lightning chose him in the fourth round, the 120th overall pick.
Mathieu Joseph was all smiles after being drafted by Tampa Bay Lightning.
A native of Chambly, Quebec, Joseph notched 21 goals and 21 assists in 59 games for the Saint Johns Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season.
“I’m kind of a power forward with a little bit of skill, so I can bring some offense but I can play on the penalty kill, too,” he said. “I’m more of a guy who’s hard to play against. I’m always a guy who’s going to forecheck and backcheck and I’m always intense, I think that’s pretty much the type of hockey (Tampa Bay) is playing.”
Caleb Jones came along to watch his big brother Seth Joneson draft day 2013 in Newark, N.J. The Jones family waited anxiously until the highly prized defenseman was taken fourth overall by the Nashville Predators.
Last weekend was Caleb’s turn. The sturdy 18-year-old defenseman from theNTDP was drafted in the fourth round by the Oilers, the 117th pick overall.
“This was a little less nerve-wracking,” Caleb said.
At 6 foot and 194 pounds, Caleb is the smaller of the hockey-playing sons of Popeye
Defenseman Caleb Jones hopes to join big brother Seth Jones in the NHL/.
Jones, the former NBA player, but he may be the grittier of the two. “I’m a two-way defenseman,” he said. “I play a physical game, aggressive in the corners”
He had 8 points in 25 games last season with the NTDP, but also 28 penalty minutes against opposition in the USHL.
As Seth Jones did, on the way to becoming one of the up-and-coming elite NHL defensemen, Caleb will go play for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League next season. His Big Brother Seth offered any advice?
“I didn’t have too much for him,” Seth told The Hockey Writers. “I’m not like some grizzled vet, but with the draft being this summer (for him), I just told him to take it one step at a time. It’s not about rankings or this and that. Just go play hockey. Play the way you know how to play and just don’t try to do too much. Just the little things.”
Another NHL draft, another stud defenseman drafted from the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. Blue-liner Devante Stephens was tabbed by the Sabres in the fifth round with the 122nd pick. He follows in the Kelowna skates of Madison Bowey, a Washington Capitals prospect, Nashville Predators D-man Shea Weber, and the Chicago Blackhawks’Duncan Keith.
Stephens had four goals and seven assists in 64 games for Kelowna. He had four assists in 17 WHL playoff games with the Rockets.
“He’s convinced he’ll be an NHL player,” Greg Royce, the Sabres director of amateur scouting, told The Olean Times Herald. “We’re convinced he’ll be an NHL player. I do believe he was a steal there.”
The Buffalo Sabres think they’ve found a jewel in Kelowna’s Devante Stephens (Photo: Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets)
The Oilers added to its stockpile of young defensemen by taking Ethan Bear in the fifth round with the 124th player chosen overall.
Bear, 18, scored 13 goals and 25 assists for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds last season. He also contributed a goal and an assist playing for Canada’s Under-18 team last season. The 5-foot-11 native of Regina, Sask., is Ochapowace First Nation.
Ethan Bear, left, joins a young Edmonton defensive corps that includes 2013 first-round pick Darnell Nurse (Photo/Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)
“It’s amazing,” Bear said after the Oilers drafted him. “They’re a great organization. It’s been exciting this whole day, especially to get picked by Edmonton.”
Perhaps no sixth-round draft pick in NHL history has generated as much attention as defenseman Andong Song, who was taken by the Islanders over the weekend with the 172nd pick.
China’s Andong Song made hockey history at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Song is the first player in draft history born in China. He arrived at Sunrise’s BB&T Center with an entourage: His family and a television crew from China’s CCTV that followed his every move.
“Hopefully what I want to do is rally people behind me,” the 18-year-old Beijing-born player said. “Not focus on myself but do something good for Chinese hockey.”
Hockey in China could surely use a boost. A country with over 1.3 billion people, China has only 610 hockey players – 118 men, 308 juniors, 184 females – according to IIHF figures. The nation has only 58 indoor ice skating rinks and 43 outdoor facilities.
Song’s selection prompted the IIHF to put a list of Asian hockey milestones on its website. Song admits that he feels “a lot of pressure from people back home” to help put hockey on the map.
“Good pressure,” he added. “That’ll motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I’ll make them proud.”
A 6-foot, 165-pound blue-liner, Song played last season for New Jersey’s Lawrenceville School. He tallied 3 goals and 7 assists in 26 games. He’ll play next season for Philips Academy, a top prep school in Andover, Mass. He hopes to catch the attention of an NCAA Division I hockey school.
Song has international hockey experience. He twice played for China in the InternationalIce Hockey Federation’s Division B World Under-18 championship and captained the team that played in the 2015 tournament in Novi Sad, Serbia. He had two assists in five tourney games.
“When I started playing (in China) there weren’t a lot of people,” he said. “There wasn’t much support for the game. Last year when I went back, it had been eight years since I’d seen Chinese hockey and it was tremendous how far it’s grown. I’m sure they’ll keep trying to catch up to Europe and North America and Russia. There’s still a gap between them, but I’m sure if we focus on hockey we can catch up.”
Lightning draftee Bokondji Imama apparently has a game as tough as his name.
Bokondji Imama could one day have the most distinctive name in the NHL.
The Montreal native, a solid 6-foot-1, 214 pound left wing for the QMJHL’s St. John’s Sea Dogs, realized his dream when the Lightning selected him with the 180th overall pick in the sixth round.
Imama had three goals and six assists in 23 games for the Sea Dogs, but he also had 48 penalty minutes. According to the website hockeyfights.com, Imama had 15 in the 2014-15 regular season and two during the preseason.
Imama’s father, also named Bokondji, and mother were born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bokondji grew up as a typical kid in Montreal, playing hockey on outdoor rinks. But he loved all sports, and played rugged games with his father. The training turned him into a physical player.
“I’m a physical player who likes to stick up for his teammates,” he said, “but I can play the game, too.”
It’s conceivable that you might see Imama in the NHL someday protecting Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos and Tampa’s other young scorers.
The Color of Hockey’s Lew Serviss contributed mightily to this post.