By Cape Breton Post

Jessica Wong was picked first overall by the Calgary Inferno in the 2013 Canadian Women’s Hockey League draft and after two seasons, called it a career.

Since then, she landed a job with Hockey Canada as a co-coordinator of membership development and lived in Calgary with her fiancée, high school sweetheart Mitchell Brewer of Baddeck, and their dog, Gus.

But an opportunity arose that she just couldn’t pass up: growing the game in China. It started with a call from Kunlun Red Star head coach Digit Murphy, who asked Wong to come out of retirement to join the fledgling club. The Red Star and the Vanke Rays were the two CWHL expansion teams from China for the 2017-18 season.

“At this point, it was not really about my career, it was about Team China,” said the 27-year-old, who’s back home in Baddeck for a visit. Players from Kunlun and Vanke skate for China’s national team that’s competing in the 2018 IIHF Women’s World Championship Division 1 ‘B’ Championship in Italy this week.

“I was kind of done with the more competitive stuff. I had a good run and a great career, and once I was able to put the more competitive side aside and focus more on them and try and help them grow, I just thought it was something I truly wanted to do. I was really glad I had the opportunity to be with them this first year.”

The Red Star team plays 45 minutes outside of Shenzen in southeast China, a city of over 12.5 million people located in Guangdong Province.

Wong said the sport has been growing steadily, but it did take some time. During the team’s first game, many fans who came out to watch were silent, mainly because they weren’t sure when to cheer or were unfamiliar with the rules of the game.

To remedy the situation, a program was printed for the next game that had team rosters, as well as a guide with the rules of hockey and when to cheer.

“It was pretty funny,” Wong said. “It’s got to start somewhere, right? We’re growing the game little by little and that’s something I’ll always remember.”

Although she came out of retirement, Wong didn’t lose a step. The blue-liner finished with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 28 games this season, led the team in ice time and was a finalist for the league’s defenceman of the year.

She also helped the squad move from expansion club to league contender. The Red Star reached the Clarkson Cup championship game but lost 2-1 in overtime to the Markham Thunder in Toronto on March 25.

“Overall, it was an amazing year,” said Wong. The Red Star finished with a 21-6-0-1 record for second place in the standings. “It was definitely more than we thought we could do and we’re super proud we were able to participate in the Clarkson Cup. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but we definitely are proud of how we played all season.”

Playing in China also had a special meaning for Wong.

“Being half Chinese, my grandmother lived three hours south of Shenzen and it does really mean a lot, just to see what China’s all about,” she said. “It was my first time and it opened my eyes up a lot to see where she grew up and came from, it definitely means a lot. I’m really happy I took this experience.”

Wong is the most accomplished women’s hockey player ever from Cape Breton. She skated for Canada’s national women’s under-22 team in 2010 and 2011, winning gold at the MLP Cup both years. She also won gold at the 2009 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship and was also a gold medalist at the 2015 Nations Cup with Canada’s women’s development team.

Wong played NCAA Division 1 hockey for four seasons at the University Minnesota Duluth. In her first season in 2009-10, she scored the winning goal in the third overtime to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 win over the Cornell Big Red in the final of the Frozen Four championship. She was named team captain in her final season in 2012-13 and graduated as the all-time leader in goal scoring among defencemen.

As for next season, Wong wasn’t sure what the future holds. She said there are still some community events and camps she’ll attend with the team this summer. In the meantime, she and her fiancée will get married in July.

Player Profile

Name: Jessica Wong

Hometown: Baddeck

Height: 5-6

Position: Defence

Age: 27

• Played for the Kunlun Red Star of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2017-18.

• First overall pick of the Calgary Inferno in the 2013 CWHL draft.

• Four time gold medalist for Canada in international competition.