AT the 2011 NHL draft, at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota, former North Shore Winter Club standout Zachary Yuen patiently waited as 118 names were called before his.
Then with the 119th pick the NHL's newest franchise, the Winnipeg Jets, called Yuen to the podium. As his family and the numerous Jets fans in attendance cheered him on, the 18-year old, six-foot, 205-pound defenceman made his way to the stage and officially accepted his invitation to the pros.
"It was fun and it was a good experience," Yuen said. "It was very exciting, but it was also such a relief when I got drafted."
Yuen, a first-generation Chinese-Canadian, will have a chance at making history if he manages to crack Winnipeg's roster. Only five players of Chinese descent have played in the NHL, and only one of them, Colorado's Brandon Yip, has played more than 100 games. Yuen will have a chance at being the sixth ever player, as well as the first-ever defenceman of Chinese descent.
By the age of three Yuen was on the ice. As a Vancouver resident he began his playing career with the Grandview Minor Hockey Association. At the age of 10 his father Charles moved him to the North Shore Winter Club.
"We moved (associations) because I knew that it was a better organization, that it had better coaches and better hockey," said Charles.
Hockey Hall of Fame member Brett Hull and surefire future Hall of Fame player Joe Sakic are just two of the Winter Club's notable alumni.
Upon his arrival at the Winter Club, Yuen gave up figure skating, a sport he had already been involved in for five years.
"I was giving him some options when he was young," Charles said. "If you want to do well in hockey you have to be able to skate first, so we put him in figure skating so that maybe he could get some edges and learn how to skate better."
Along with figure skating, Charles had Yuen take up piano. By the age of 13 he had earned a diploma from the London College of Music.
At the Winter Club, Yuen put to use the lessons he had learned from his extracurricular activities outside of hockey to excel on the ice. He became a coveted prospect, and in 2008, when he was 15, Yuen was selected 22nd overall by the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League's bantam draft.
For Charles, he felt that the way in which Yuen developed at the Winter Club, and the fun he had there, helped mould him into the NHL prospect he is today.
"As a parent the (Winter Club) is very good for development," Charles said. "People put their kids in hockey there not because they want them to be a professional but because they want to develop their kids in general. The kids have fun there, which is important."
After a season with the Vancouver Canadians in B.C.'s Major Midget League, Yuen moved to Kennewick, Wash. to play for Tri-City. It was here that Yuen's game really took off.
During his two full seasons with the Americans, Yuen physically filled out his six-foot frame, and took on the role of a shutdown defenceman.
In the 2010-11 campaign, Yuen helped Tri-City win its first Western Conference championship. In 72 games he scored eight goals and had 24 assists. More impressively, Yuen commanded a team-high plus/ minus rating of +41.
"His strength is playing as a stay-at-home defenceman. He is a great defender and very difficult to beat," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "The one thing you get from (Yuen) is that he is really focused, and he wants to be a hockey player. He is fully focused on achieving that and he has given himself his best chance through the way he focuses, and the way he trains."
At only 18, Yuen understands where his strengths as a player are, but he doesn't believe that will he be typecast as a stay at home defenceman in the future.
"I still have offensive potential that I haven't used yet and I'm looking to use that next year," he said. "I think I can have a really solid two-way game."
Yuen recently graduated from St. George's high school, and though he hasn't ruled out the possibility of going to university - he plans on taking an online class next year - his focus right now is hockey.
"My goal is to play for the (Jets) next year. I'm looking to make it professionally in hockey right now," he said. "There is only one chance in hockey to make it, and school you can go back to at anytime, but with hockey you only have one chance."
Though Yuen isn't lacking in his motivation to succeed, his heritage has provided him with an extra incentive to crack the ranks of the NHL.
"Hopefully I can inspire more Chinese Canadians to pursue hockey, and be a good role model for them," he said.
NHL PLAYERS OF CHINESE DESCENT
NHL PLAYERS OF CHINESE DESCENT
- Chris Beckford-Tseu. Chinese/Afro-Jamaican. Goalie played one game for the St. Louis Blues in 2008
- Peter Ing. Chinese. He is a retired goaltender who played 74 games from 1989-94. He played, in order, for the Toronto Maple Leafs (89-91) Edmonton Oilers (91-92) and Detroit Red Wings (93-94)
- Larry Kwong. Chinese. Centre played one game for the the New York Rangers in 1948.
- Mike Wong. Chinese/Native American. Centre played 22 games for the Detroit Red Wings in 1975-76.
- Brandon Yip. Chinese/Irish right winger played 103 games for the Colorado Avalanche from 2009-present.