It wasn’t the international debut that most hockey goalies dream about. There were just 26 people in the stands in the Al Clark Arena for that mid-week game Nov. 28. Most of them were parents supporting the visiting team. There was no livestreaming.
Still, Jiashu (Terry) Cheng ’22 (Beijing) skated off with a W next to his name in his first start for the CMA Varsity B hockey team. He had 10 saves while giving up only one goal in the Eagles’ 10-1 victory over South Bend St. Joseph’s junior varsity team.
The scoring flurry by his teammates made his job a little easier, he said. “There was not so much pressure,” he said. “Especially, since it was my first game.”
But his second game against the Penn junior varsity two weeks later got off to a rocky start. A Penn slap shot hit the top bar and bounced down. Initially, it was ruled that the puck didn’t break the plane and play continued. But when the officials conferred, they ruled it a goal. The confusion threw Cheng off and he gave up four goals in the first period.
“I kind of panicked,” he said. “I was a little overwhelmed, so the coaches had me come out.”
He re-entered the game for the third period, giving up only one goal, and the Eagles came back and won the game in overtime, 7-6. But, Cheng said, it was a learning experience on several levels. The first was keeping his emotions in check, the second was learning to pick up the puck better on slap shots, and the third was learning to catch the puck so he could reduce the number of rebounds off his pads.
Cheng had only been playing hockey for a year in Beijing before enrolling at Culver. He estimates there may be more goalies (14) in the Culver program than all the teams in his hometown. He knows of only one hockey store in the city of nearly 22 million. Everything he has purchased there has either been used or an older generation.
He is gradually upgrading his equipment. He didn’t know his old skates weren’t the right size until he got his new pair. Just before he left for winter break, his new leg pads arrived. He was so excited, he was using a photo of them as the background on his mobile phone. And he is quick to tell you they came from Goalie Monkey, too.
Cheng was five years old when he originally set foot on the ice as a figure skater after his mother enrolled him in a class. He was good enough to qualify for the Chinese Junior Olympics in the pairs grouping, but he just wasn’t that satisfied. Everything changed after he saw his first hockey game. Cheng knew that was the sport for him. But there were hurdles.
He played in a no-checking city league. He was one of two goalies on his team and all the Beijing teams share a goalie coach, who is Russian. Cheng said between learning hockey terminology in Russian and the coach showing him pictures of what to do, he picked up some fundamentals.
But since his pads didn’t fit, he didn’t learn how to do the butterfly correctly. “I still leave the five hole open (the space between his legs),” he explained. But the new pads and improved flexibility will help close that gap, he added.
He is getting a lot of support from the Culver coaches, the other goalies and his teammates. But he knows he has to break some bad habits. Chief among those is learning to catch the puck instead of just blocking it with his body and mask. In China, he said, none of the boys he plays against has a hard slap shot. The first time he took one in the mask during a Culver practice, he got his teeth rattled. Lesson learned.
And, in China, Cheng’s team practiced only one to three times per week. He believes he has already had more ice time in his first two months at Culver than he had over his entire first year in Beijing.
Ironically, he didn’t even know Culver Academies had a hockey program until he got here. He had an adviser recommend Culver for its academics, he said. While looking at the different schools, Cheng said he liked the leadership training Culver offered. Along with hockey, he plays soccer and is on the math competition team and he participated in The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur Eli Lilly Challenge.
The first few weeks were hectic. He admits his English isn’t the best and learning the military terms wasn’t easy. But as he has settled into a rhythm, things have gotten easier for him. Plus he gets a lot of support from his fellow students, instructors, coaches, and others.
“This is just the place I want to be.”