Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mao's Successor Hua Dies; Number to Be Retired

Hua Guofeng, former Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Premier of the People's Republic of China, and NHL left winger, died today at the age of 87. Hua is most remembered for being Mao's handpicked successor, and for his two-year stint as a left wing on the Stanley-Cup winning New York Islander teams in 1982 and '83. In tribute to his memory, the Islanders announced today that they will retire his number 43 sweater at a ceremony in the Nassau Colliseum this October.

Hua joined the Communist Party in 1938 and rose through the ranks, becoming minister of public security in 1975, and ascending to the premiership of China following the death of the super-sexy Chou En-Lai in early 1976. He assumed the chairmanship of the Communist Party in China after Mao died later in the year. But the Triple Crown (Premier of China, Chairman of the Communist Party, World's Greatest Grandpa) eluded him, the third title having been granted, via coffee mug, to 88,000 men across the United States, but never to Hua despite being really, really, really nice to his daughter's brats in Guangzhou.

After being ousted from power by the sinister wiles of Deng Xiao Ping, Hua went west all the way to Long Island to live out his childhood fantasy of playing in the NHL. He joined the New York Islanders in the midst of their run of four straight Stanley Cups, playing along such notables as Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, and Jesus Christ. Although Hua was mostly known as a bruising, checking-line forward and penalty killer, he occasionally managed to dazzle with his skating and his stickwork. His 28-goal campaign in 1981-82 included nearly a dozen goals that would have been included in highlight reels, if anyone in America watched hockey highlight reels in the first place, which they didn't.

His most spectacular moment on the ice, however, came in the second period of game 3 of the 1982 Stanley Cup finals, when Hua leapt eight feet into the air and pirouetted over Vancouver Canucks defenseman Lars Lindgren near his own blue line, landing immediately behind him. Hua then stole the puck from the confused Lindgren, skated into the Canucks' zone unmolested, and floated a wrist shot past a gaping Richard Brodeur for an easy goal.

For his career, he amassed 52 goals and 159 points in two NHL seasons with New York, winning the Stanley Cup both years, all while retaining his title as junior Vice Chairman of the Communist Party until the position was eliminated in the middle of the 1982-83 season. He spent the end of 1983 and most of 1984 backpacking across Europe, returning to China in December after having discovered the joy that is Michael Jackson's Thriller.

In addition to being remembered and celebrated in his own country, the Islanders have announced that Hua's number, 43, will be retired by the team on Monday, October 27th before a game against the New York Rangers. Hua will also be posthumously given the World's Greatest Grandpa award that he coveted for so much of his adult life.

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