But however that ends up going this year, it would seem the 29-year-old defenseman may have quite a bit to look forward to down the road. Tam, whose mother, Francine, is from Quebec, but father, Thomas, is Chinese, would be eligible to play for the Chinese National Team in the upcoming 2022 Olympic Games.
“It would be a great opportunity if it happens,” Tam told FloHockey in a recent phone interview.
“Kunlun started a program a couple of years ago, and they had that in mind, that they wanted to bring a couple North Americans with Chinese roots to the program, and it would be a great experience if it ended up happening for me. As of right now, I don’t know where it stands regarding all that, but if I have the opportunity to play for them at the Olympics, it would be a dream come true. I think every athlete in every sport, if they have the chance to go to the Olympics, they’d take it and enjoy it as much as they can.”
Tam’s Chinese roots also benefitted him at his most recent stop prior to returning to North America to play for Rapid City; in his three seasons with Kunlun Red Star in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) as well as their minor league affiliates, he didn’t count as an import player on the China-based team thanks to his heritage.
The 5-foot-10, 205 pound blueliner enjoyed his time with Kunlun, saying he appreciated getting to see the country for the first time and see where a lot of his roots were from, but also to get to play against the “top Russian guys that you hear about” back in North America. He performed well there but returned to the ECHL for the first time since the 2016-17 season, where he put together a career year for the Norfolk Admirals. Suffice it to say, the culture shock of going from playing in the KHL to calling South Dakota home has been interesting, to say the least.
“It’s a big change,” he said. “Outside of hockey, the life is a little different here compared to China or even in Russia. But, it’s also been way easier for me. You’re not as far away from your family, so it’s been nice to get back closer to home. The chance to play in Rapid City, it’s been a crazy year for every hockey player with leagues or teams that aren’t playing and just getting opportunities, so I was happy I was able to get settled in here. I think for me, it was just the right fit.”
So far, so good, although a glance at the standings might have you thinking otherwise. Early on, the Rush are bringing up the rear of the ECHL with a 4-9-0-0 record despite Tam being tied for the team lead among defensemen with five points in his first eight games.
“I think for every team and for every organization, it’s been a crazy ride so far,” Tam said. “There have been a lot of guys in and out of the lineup at the beginning of the season, and a lot of new guys coming in. But, I think now, we have a solid group that will be here for a long time, and we’re just starting to get to know each other and get used to the systems. I think last weekend, that really showed.”
The Rush put together their first winning streak of the season, taking the last two games of a 3-in-3 set at home against the Tulsa Oilers. Their collective performance in those two contests is a big reason why Tam is optimistic that Rapid City will start slowly, but surely climbing back up the standings as the season unfolds.
“We’re getting better, and I think we have the skill, the talent and the energy to be a good team in this league,” he said. “After last weekend, we’re really looking forward to these next few games, because I think we’re really improved.”
Rapid City is set to resume play on Friday night, starting a two-game series at home against the Utah Grizzlies, which you can watch exclusively on FloHockey.
Mike Ashmore has 17 years of experience covering professional and college sports. You can follow him on all social media channels at @mashmore98.