The youth ice hockey friendly between China and Russia in June last year, a match that was watched by President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, was the first time that Hu Wenhan played under his father as coach.
However, Hu insisted that the father-son relationship was not a factor that affected his team selection or tactical decisions on the ice rink during the game. "On the rink, I was the coach and he was only one of the players," he said.
As a coach to the men's national team, Hu has long been troubled by the shortage of homegrown talent. During the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan in 2017, he expressed his worries about the lack of top players available for selection after Team China was outscored 32-0 in its three games.
In order to truly catch up with the ice hockey giants in the world, the country should continue to focus on the fundamentals, he said. He noted that the deficiency of top players was not simply because of a lack of young players coming through.
Indeed, young players registering for the game surged to about 20,000 last year compared with a mere 300 players about 10 years ago, he said. In Harbin and Beijing, 200 primary schools have launched ice hockey teams, in which at least 6,000 pupils have participated.
"One problem is that children are giving up the sport as soon as they enter junior high schools as they begin to come under greater academic pressure. Meanwhile, there are barely any middle schools that are running ice hockey teams," he said.
The lack of channels for young hockey players to progress through the academic system is another important reason, as few colleges in China grant scholarships to children playing the sport, he said.
He noted that a number of players for the Chinese men's hockey team, such as Ying Rudi, Song Andong and Yan Juncheng, moved to North America for ice hockey training when they were about 10 years old.
Song Andong was the first Chinese-born player drafted into the National Hockey League. He was drafted in the sixth round, 172nd overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders.
"Going abroad was virtually their only choice if they were to continue to seek a career in ice hockey," Hu said.
Currently, only two colleges in China, Harbin Sport University and Beijing Sport University, run ice hockey teams, even though the Ministry of Education greenlighted at least seven other universities to host ice hockey teams.
Cost is a factor, he said. There is the maintenance of ice hockey rinks, cost of gear, uniforms, equipment and coaching fees. "Many universities cannot afford the yearly investment of up to 3 million yuan ($447,000) each year."
He called on education authorities to come up with concrete policies and a plan to support the development of ice hockey so that young players can have a way to get through college with ice hockey scholarships.
"The development of college games is the core part for the sustainable development of ice hockey. By having college hockey teams, we can also encourage the growth of teams at primary and middle school levels," he said.
"That could be the best way for Chinese ice hockey to truly take off."