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Former Badger Claudia Kepler’s unforgettable professional hockey season in China

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VERONA (WKOW)-- Verona native Claudia Kepler got a call in September with an offer to play professional hockey in China.

“China are you kidding me,” Kepler initially reacted.

But, it didn’t take much convincing.

Kepler playing for the Vanke Rays of the Russia Women's Hockey League.

“Within five days, I had everything packed up," Kepler said. "I had to tell my job I wasn’t working there anymore and I had to leave. I was arriving in Hong Kong five days later, and then I took a ferry over to Shenzhen and started playing hockey.”

Everything was going smoothly until after the holiday break.

“We arrive in Hong Kong and we turn on our phones and a player’s mom had texted her saying, 'be careful there’s a virus that just came out in Hong Kong.' ”

It was just before the Chinese New Year that the coronavirus started to hit Kepler's home.

“We finally got an update that it had just arrived in Shenzhen," Kepler said.

"One game we had about four thousand fans, the next day we had no one in the stands. They canceled anyone coming in. It was closed to the public, and that’s when we knew it was real.”

The coaching staff acted fast telling the team they would not return to China after the Chinese New Year. Instead, they would all reconvene in St. Petersburg, Russia. That's where they lived for the next six weeks.

The Vanke Rays win the WHL title.

The team knew there was only one way to make this season even more memorable. The Vanke Rays swept both of its playoff series to come away as WHL champions.

Now Kepler is back home and healthy, with a story to tell.

Karley Marotta

Weekend Sports Anchor

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