ASU Hockey: Peter Zhong’s unlikely journey to Arizona State

TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 10: Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky performs on the field during the first half of the college football game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Sun Devil Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 10: Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky performs on the field during the first half of the college football game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Sun Devil Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) /

ASU hockey redshirt Peter Zhong came over from China to pursue his dream of playing hockey. Now, he’s a future part of the Sun Devil hockey program.

Arizona, look around and you see the home of some of the most scenic mountains in the world. Miles of sand, cacti and reptiles make up much of the scorching desert. However, traveling east from Phoenix along the I-10 you find yourself in a college town.

You are now surrounded by palm trees, students and one of the most electrifying streets in the nation. You are in Tempe, Arizona, home of Arizona State University and a budding college hockey program. A program not defined by a 747-seat arena. Rather, the group of players who take pride in the tradition they are building. Redshirt Peter Zhong is among it.

Zhong was born and raised in Shun Yi, China, a suburb of Beijing. He was raised on strong principles ingrained in him from a young age by his parents.

Rather than just stressing the importance of education alone, Renhong Zhong and Fang Liu believed in allowing Peter to follow his dreams. From a young age, it was apparent to him that hockey was just that.

It all started in a shopping mall, where Zhong recalls spending many weekends shopping with his mom. One particular weekend, Peter’s mom decided to take him to the sheet of ice situated in the middle of the mall. He strapped on a pair of figure skates, and with the help of an instructor, took his first strides.

Following consecutive trips back to the same mall, Zhong began to grasp the ability to skate. After seeing a hockey game following one of his skating sessions on that very same rink, Peter would fall in love with the game of hockey.

“It was cool how guys were gliding and skating across the ice so gracefully, meanwhile trying to kill each other at the same time,” Zhong said of watching his first game.

As any parent would do for their kids, Renhong and Fang began to seek the best coaches to teach Peter the game of hockey. Lei Fu, the coach of the most elite minor hockey team in China, would begin teaching Zhong the fundamentals.

At the young age of five, he began to stickhandle and skate at an advanced level. However, it was not something that came naturally to Zhong, as he recalls the amount of time and hard work he put in.

The work would pay off, as Coach Fu would ask him to join his team and begin practicing with them. As parents and players began to notice the skill of Zhong in practice, he began to feel the assurance that hockey was for him.

Peter, like every hockey player growing up can remember his first goal.

“I got the puck in the slot and shot it along the ice far side,” Peter reminisced.

Perhaps what made it even more special for Zhong, was the fact it came on the very rink where his journey began.

But, his journey never would have seen the light of day if it were not for the time and money his parents invested into his passion – something Peter is well aware of and grateful for and will not ever take for granted. Zhong does not discount his parent’s willingness to allow him to pursue his dream.

“I am very grateful to have my parents… giving me all those opportunities and sacrificing their time and money,” he said.

Hockey in China is considered to be unconventional in comparison to the popularity of the sport in North America. Despite the lower caliber of hockey, Peter remembers distinctly some tournaments he would attend traveling far and wide for.

Many minor hockey players growing up are excited for the times they get to travel a few hours away to stay in a hotel, play hockey and make memories. The team Zhong played for, however, took it to another level, as they traveled across the globe to places like Singapore and Ottawa.

His memories from the trips were very simple for the then-7-year-old. Peter remembers “dominating” every team, en route to winning both tournaments. He especially recalls fondly, his trip to Canada and the Bell Capital Cup in Ottawa.

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The tournament in Ottawa would open Renhong and Fang’s eyes to the opportunities and quality of play available in North America for their son. The following summer, his parents made a life altering decision, allowing a 7-year-old from China to pursue his dream at a higher level.

Six-thousand, six-hundred miles is the distance from Beijing to Chicago, a mere 13-hour flight. Drive 37 minutes south of Chicago and you find yourself in Orland Park. The Chicago suburb whose motto is, “Where you want to be,” became the new home of Peter and his family.

A change as drastic as moving from one continent to another is never easy, especially for a 7-year-old. While having to adjust to living in a new country, going to a new school, and making new friends, there was one thing that remained unchanged for Zhong–his love for the game of hockey.

Hockey became second nature to Peter. It was a part of him. However, losing was not. Winning on his Chinese team seemed automatic and dominant performances became expected.

But now, Zhong was no longer in China. He was playing for the Chicago Fury, and his expectations for his team and personal success had to be re-evaluated.

Despite a tough first season in North America where his team won very few games, there was one thing Peter remembers; every game he played against the Chicago Mission. A team, that has Arizona hockey roots of its own. Current Arizona Coyotes Clayton Keller and Christian Fischer were on that team. When describing what it was like playing against those future NHL players he said, “they were unstoppable and on the same line, it was unfair.”

Following a disappointing first season, Zhong had one goal in mind: Make the Chicago Mission. Everyone in the Chicago area wants to play for that team, according to Peter.

“That’s the team you want to play on,” he said.

Zhong would go on to play for the Mission for the next 10 seasons, experiencing a great deal of success.

While with the Chicago Mission and preparing for the next stage of his hockey career, Peter would receive a very special call. A call every kid growing up and playing hockey can only dream of – the opportunity to play for your country.

Nothing compares to pulling on a jersey with your country’s colors and Zhong felt that indescribable feeling in Estonia at the 2014 IIHF U18 World Championship.

“Man, it was special,” he said. “I’d always dreamt of doing it.”

The Chinese-born forward has gone on to represent his country two more times since. Each time he pulls on the jersey, he says it feels just as special as the first. However, there is one date Peter has circled on his calendar, and he feels it will be a little more special than usual.

February 4, 2022.

While Arizona residents are enjoying the 70-degree sunshine and Zhong’s ASU teammates are hopefully practicing in their newly built arena, Peter hopes to be home in Beijing.

Instead of wearing the pitchfork on his chest, Peter wouldn’t mind boasting the Chinese flag, competing for Olympic gold.

“That is everyone’s dream, the biggest stage in the world,” he said. “From Tempe to the Olympics, playing in front of all of China, it would be pretty special.”

The 2022 Winter Olympics is a sheer glimpse through the crystal ball for Peter; he is focused on what is currently in front of him.

Zhong remembers vividly one morning this past June. His mom woke him up with some good news.

“Peter, you have an offer from ASU to redshirt this season,” she exclaimed.

There was not much deliberation with this offer for him. Not every day does the opportunity to play Division I hockey at a relatively new program, at a school like Arizona State, come along.

Like any recruitment process, the most exciting time is your first time on campus.

“Hot, it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” he said of his first visit to Tempe.

However, the desert heat would not get to the Chicago resident. After just a few hours on campus, Zhong remembers thinking to himself how happy he felt, surrounded by palm trees and the sun shining from dusk until dawn. He was excited to officially be a Sun Devil.

Entering a new stage in your life, especially one in a new city and new faces is exciting, but it also comes with nerves and trepidation. However, Zhong felt right at home after stepping into Oceanside Ice Arena. The welcoming and promising words of head coach Greg Powers, and the tight-knit nature of the team allowed Peter to feel comfortable and do what he knew best, playing hockey.

Peter sees his redshirt season as an opportunity for growth. A chance to learn from the seniors, study the college game and get stronger in the gym.

“Numbers are going up, and I feel stronger,” he said.

Moreover, Zhong has tried to pick up habits from two of the team’s large leadership group.

Seniors Dylan Hollman and Anthony Croston have been a big part of the Sun Devils’ success this year. The redshirt freshman has tried to emulate how the two carry themselves and Zhong had high praise when asked what he has taken away from them.

“How professional they are, their leadership in the room, discipline with their bodies and how hard they work in the classroom and on the ice,” said Zhong.

When watching Croston and Hollman, it is obvious they are the two hardest working players on the ice, and that is exactly what Zhong wants to be known for.

For now, Peter comes to practice every day to work hard and help his teammates get better. When they go on the road, he stays in Tempe, watching the team go to battle from his computer screen.

When at home, Peter shows up in his suit, takes his position behind the glass in the small confines of Oceanside and supports his teammates as they write history for ASU.

Zhong knows one day he will be part of it, and instead of being a spectator, he will be in the midst of Sun Devil hockey on game day. His goals are simple for his time at Arizona State.

“I just want to win games,” said Zhong.

And, Peter has no doubt ASU will do just that. He also has another goal–winning an NCAA National Championship.

“It would be the dream,” he said. “I love this school, I love this team and to win a National Championship with the team. It would be crazy.”

Arizona State hockey is having a storybook season, one that a new program could only dream to have. This team is good, and they are only getting better.

Peter Zhong is a part of the tradition being made in Tempe and will be for the next four years. Zhong and his teammates are proving to the nation that ASU is more than a Power Five school and more than a party-infused college town.

Zhong is passionate about ASU and the hockey program that he is so proud to be a part of.  Peter believes ASU will be one of the most attractive programs in college hockey moving forward.

For Peter, the journey from Shun Yi to Tempe via Orland Park has been a long and memorable one. A passion for the game he loves, a devoted and supporting family, and a determination to succeed have been the catalyst.

Who would have thought that a child born northeast of Beijing would one day end up playing hockey and living in Tempe?

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“It’s Arizona State, who wouldn’t want to play here?”

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.