By Carter Brooks
Photos by Dylan Asmundson

Born and raised in China, the now 16-year-old backstop drew a liking to the sport of hockey at a young age, but he knew that in order to get ahead and truly pursue his dreams he would need to leave his home country for Canada. Five years ago, he did just that, joining the former Edge of Excellence program that became RINK Kelowna for the 2020-21 season. 

“Hockey really isn’t that big back home,” Gu told Game On. “It's getting there, but it's not quite there yet. Obviously, with the KHL, we have one team in Beijing, but that's about it. But for me, I remember playing a tournament in China and I remember there being this one Canadian team there, and they were insane compared to us. Another time I went to a tournament in Kazakhstan and we played against some Russian teams and I had like 90 shots on goal. It was crazy. I was like, ‘okay, I need to get better here’. Lots of my teammates were going abroad to study anyways, so I figured why not study hockey. So that’s how I ended up in Canada.”

Hockey in China is on the rise, says Gu, who referenced the 2022 Winter Olympic Games (held in Beijing) as a turning point. China doesn’t regularly stream hockey games on its television or internet providers, so Gu had been forced to solely watch highlights on YouTube for inspiration through his youth. 

His favourite player? None other than Vezina Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury of the Minnesota Wild.

“I have only been to two actual NHL games in my life, but I just really love Fleury,” Gu shared.

“Like I watched him as I grew up. I just cannot believe his energy and excitement. His athleticism is just great. I can’t really model my movements after him, but I try to follow his, mental side, like how much energy and how positive he is. But the way he plays? Not so much. He's a lot more athletic than I am. I can’t do half the stuff he does in the crease.”

RINK Summer Hockey Camps

To own a 21-year NHL career certainly requires some athleticism, to go along with vast success and some really good luck. So far, for Gu, it’s been a successful four-year prep hockey career, as he’s worked through the RINK’s U-15, U-16 and U-17 programs.

“I just love how much ice we get,” he laughed. “The workouts have been great, the coaching staff is super nice to us, and I just really like the way life is right now. We just do our four main courses; we only study for a couple hours and we don't waste time on P.E. and stuff like that, but rather we get to play hockey and do what is beneficial for us hockey players.” 

So, how exactly did Gu sell the RINK to his parents? ‘Easy’, he said. 

“My parents support me, one hundred percent. But I just told them, I have to leave and go elsewhere to become a better hockey player. And look, I’ll get to meet new people, you learn a lot of things. I get great billets and will become very fluent in English. You learn how to cook, you learn how to get to places. It’s more like life lessons that it’s teaching me.”

According to his coach Jason Richter, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound backstop hasn’t only been receiving support, but also giving it out as he continues to mature as a goaltender and as a person.

“He's a special person and a great teammate,” coach Richter said. “Louis makes sure that people coming in who are new to the academy are feeling welcome. He is quite possibly the friendliest guy you would ever meet. His teammates love him, and he has a way about him that makes everybody feel comfortable. He’s super personable and has dealt with the language barrier and culture change in stride. He's always been that type of kid that's been able to adapt.”

Some of that support comes through off-ice friendship, time in the classroom and with his billets, but Richter also sees Gu providing his insights on the ice on what he calls a daily basis. 

RINK Summer Hockey Camps

“Every goal that goes in against him, he wants to know why it went in, how he can fix it,” Richter said. “We have goalie coaches that come out, and even when it's not him being talked to, he's in that group and he's trying to figure out how he can use that conversation to better himself. His work ethic is second to none. Louis is the first goalie on the ice taking shots right away, and always wants to stay out late. He's always talking to the guys, giving them advice on how to score goals, right? How he sees pucks coming at him and gives them ideas for different angles to shoot at.”

Although still figuring out exactly what his teammates mean when using hockey slang, the language barrier is now quite minimal for Gu.

“I think I knew how to say ‘hello’ when I first got here, and that’s about it,” he laughed. “But honestly, I just kept talking. If I didn’t know something, I used Google Translate. Some of the on-ice chirps are just weird though, I’m learning. I still don’t understand how people say ‘gross’ when someone does something good. Gross is a bad word, isn’t it? And like, put my bucket on? What am I supposed to do, put an actual puck bucket on my head? But then I learned that meant helmet, so I was like, ‘oh, okay, that’s pretty good,’.”

Now in the back stretch of his minor hockey career, Gu is not only looking forward to the conclusion of the 2023-24 season, but also at what could be next on his hockey journey. 

“My ultimate goal is NCAA Division I,” he said. “I want to get a scholarship, go to a good school and hopefully earn a spot on my national team. But you really never know. This year, obviously winning a championship in the league would be great, and hopefully I can get noticed by the junior team. The more exposure you have here, the more people you talk to, there are lots of options.” 

Carter Brooks | Game On Magazine