There are more than 1.35 billion people in China. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, 95 of them are hockey officials. When a new rink opened up in Shenzhen City, just north of Hong Kong, Jingwei (Ivy) Xu decided she wanted to get on the ice for fun – a decision that ultimately led her to the GTHL and, eventually, to the IIHF.
Though never having played hockey, Xu was intrigued by the game. She wanted to learn more about the sport that is second nature to many Canadians, but foreign to most in China. Excited about the sport, she asked the Chinese Ice Hockey Association how she could be involved, thus beginning her unlikely journey.
With little knowledge of the sport and a fairly basic skating ability, Xu learned the game as an off-ice official for two years before ever picking up a whistle. Working in the timekeeper’s box provided a chance to be involved while learning about the nuances of ice hockey, further developing both her understanding of and appreciation for the game.
After working as an off-ice official and improving her skating in her spare time, Xu transitioned into the role of linesperson.
“I started for fun, to get on the ice,” said Xu during a phone interview from a hotel in Qiqihar, where she was officiating a women’s tournament. “There is no team in my city so officiating was the only way to get on the ice. When I learned, I realized officials can be very smart on the ice and it’s helped me in work and other parts of life.”
Xu eventually donned the armbands as a referee, a transition similar to that of other officials. The development process, however, was unique compared to most of her counterparts.
Each September, the Chinese National Women’s Team holds training camp and plays exhibition games in Ontario. In 2013, Xu joined the team for the trip, seeking coaching from experienced Canadian officials. Steve Wallace, the GTHL’s technical director of officiating, agreed to lend a hand to help educate an eager new official.
Since her first visit to the GTHL’s Canadian School of Hockey Officiating, Xu has grown immensely as an official. In her repeated visits to the GTA, she has officiated games in the GTHL, MHL, and NYHL, as well as experiencing junior hockey through the ref school.
Passionate about the opportunities presented to her, Xu made it a priority to help aspiring officials in China, bringing a contingent to her most recent visit to Canada in 2015.
“The first two years I went to Canada by myself, but in the third year some of my students came,” said Xu, speaking with great excitement about their potential. “They wanted to learn more and learn different officiating cultures. I brought them to the GTHL and they made friends with the GTHL referees and they skated together and had fun, and learned a lot.”
“Officiating in the GTHL is very good. Their way of teaching is very good and GTHL referees are all great teachers. They helped me a lot and I got a lot of experience learning from them.”
With that experience, Xu returned to China with new skills and knowledge, quickly moving up the ranks in the country’s women’s hockey scene. Xu has certainly come a long way from her simple beginnings as a curious off-ice official – she was up the middle for the qualification round of the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship and serves as an off-ice official with the Kontinental Hockey League, which expanded to China this season.
While the opportunities presented by the GTHL helped Xu develop, it was her commitment to the game and to continually improving that set her apart.
“It would be fair to say that Ivy is the most dedicated and hard-working hockey official I have met in my 48 years of officiating,” said Wallace. “She has worked very hard in hopes of becoming China’s first ice hockey referee in the Olympics.”
With the 2022 Winter Olympics being hosted in Beijing, China, 2,200 km north of Shenzhen, Xu’s objectives continue to evolve. Already with an impressive collection of accolades, her next step is to give back.
“In officiating, my goal is to teach more students that they can get a chance,” said Xu. “I think it’s a good opportunity for Chinese young people if they can officiate in the Olympic Games. I hope China can be a strong hockey country.”
While the GTHL continues to develop referees and linesmen who progress to the OHL, AHL, and NHL, the league and its officials have helped contribute to a global movement – one driven by the work of a passionate woman from southern China.
Xu continues to inspire, and that bodes well for the growth of officiating – and hockey – in places we rarely think of.