SUNRISE - Every NHL draft pick has a support network, but for Andong Song, that group could be one billion strong some day.
Song, who was taken in the sixth round by the New York Islanders, is the first-ever NHL draft pick to be born and raised in China. He fell in love with the sport as a six-year-old during a series of illnesses, at the suggestion of his mother. After winning a tournament in Canada and serving as team captain, Song decided to take his career to the next level and moved to North America at age 10. He played for the Oakville Rangers in the Toronto suburbs before heading to Lawrenceville prep school in New Jersey. It's pretty incredible, given his humble hockey roots.
"Growing up there were only two rinks in Beijing," Song said. "It wasn't even a full-size NHL rink, it was just parts of the ice sectioned off for skating."
A defenseman who loved to watch Nicklas Lidstrom growing up, Song has already played internationally for China at the world under-18s and even had a Chinese camera crew following him around the arena in Florida.
"It's a lot of pressure from people back home, but it's good pressure," he said. "I hope that will motivate me to be a better player and hopefully I do them proud."
New York has done grassroots hockey work in China in the past, so it's not a surprise that the Islanders would be the team to make history in this category, but there were still no guarantees about the selection.
"I wasn't really nervous until the Islanders made their fifth-round pick," Song said. "After that, I was on my toes."
Song hopes to continue his career at the NCAA level, but will return to high school next year. There's no rush on his development, but it's fair to say there will be a lot of interest as he progresses through the ranks.