Each May, we celebrate Asian Heritage Month. Throughout the month, Hockey Alberta reflects on the many achievements and contributions of Albertans of Asian heritage who, throughout our history, have done so much to make hockey the game we know and love.
To celebrate this year’s theme, “Continuing a legacy of greatness,” we first must look back at the legacies of those before us, including Larry Kwong. Born in Vernon, B.C., Kwong quickly became an offensive phenom for the Vernon Hyrdophones at 16 years old. As his skills heightened, so did the impact of World War II. Kwong put his dreams on hold to enlist in the army. His basic training stationed him in Red Deer, where he played for the army’s Red Deer Wheelers. As his comrades were sent overseas, Kwong was instructed to stay in Red Deer to play hockey to entertain the troops. During this time, he found himself facing off against NHL’ers and holding his own. Little did he know, his dreams were in motion. Kwong, a trailblazer for Chinese-Canadian players became the first player of Asian heritage and the first person of colour to play in the NHL. Kwong played his first and last shift in the league on March 13, 1948, but he opened the gate for many to follow, like Steve Tsujiura of Coaldale.
Though he never played in the NHL, Tsujiura put up impressive numbers and received several WHL awards to catch the eyes of the professional scouts. In 1981, he was chosen in the 10th round of the 1981 NHL draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Tsujiura’s professional career spanned over 14 seasons in the AHL and in leagues overseas in Switzerland and Italy. Prior to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, he was extended an invitation to represent Japan on the national stage. Following the Games, Tsujiura retired from playing to take on the role of head coach of the Japanese National Team. Tsujiura saw the coaching position as an opportunity to stay in the game, something he took advantage of for four seasons before retiring from the game completely.
Similar to Tsujiura, Kassy Betinol’s Olympic debut came in 2022 with the Chinese Women’s National Team. The Okotoks native received an invitation to centralize with Team China because of her Chinese heritage. Betinol became a fixture on Team Alberta growing up and played in the Okanagan in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League before earning a scholarship to Minnesota-Duluth University. After a rookie NCAA season cut short due to COVID-19, Betinol received an invitation to Canada’s National Women’s Development Team 2020 Summer Camp. After spending her 2021-22 season with the Chinese National Team, Betinol will return for another season at Minnesota-Duluth before looking for professional opportunities. She credits her Team Alberta experience for aiding in her development in a organized and professional environment to set her up in the success she has achieved thus far in her career.
The Team Alberta program is constructed to develop not only the players, but support staff as well, which is what trainer Alex Le was looking for when he volunteered. Le, of Calgary, has volunteered with Hockey Alberta on several occasions, including as the U16 Equipment Manager and Trainer in 2015 and 2016. Joining the Northwest Calgary Athletics Association as the trainer for the Midget A Bruins in 2007, Le was looking to learn and grow when he began volunteering with Hockey Alberta. Also an employee of Hockey Alberta’s long-time partner and supporter, ATB Financial, Le concludes that ATB is here to support Albertans through everything, just like Hockey Alberta.
Kwong, Tsujiura, Betinol and Le have stamped their mark on the game in their own way. Reflecting on their legacies, we will look to the next generations of Asian-Canadians to continue the legacy of greatness on the sport of hockey.