On the heels of the NHL announcing the Colorado Avalanche-Ottawa Senators regular season games in Sweden on November 10-11, the league has unveiled plans to play a pair of preseason games in China.
The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks have been chosen to represent the NHL as it makes a 2017 global push into East Asia. The two sides will contest two preseason games on Sept. 21 in Shanghai and Sept 23rd in Beijing.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 30, 2017
NHL.com released the news of the preseason game as Commissioner Gary Bettman told the world from Beijing.
“This is an historic moment for the National Hockey League.” Bettman stated. “I am honored to announce the 2017 NHL China Games, presented by O.R.G. Packaging.”
NHL Network had Bettman on its program to discuss the venture:
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) March 30, 2017
China will play host to the 2022 Winter Olympics and the China Games gives the country a chance to expose its population to the sport before it rolls out the red carpet.
According to the league, both clubs have previously held youth camps in China as the NHL attempts to spread ice hockey to the Eastern Hemisphere.
The Man with the Plan
Chinese billionaire Zhou Yunjie is the man that has pushed for the NHL’s entrance into China. Zhou has done just about everything in the business world. The mogul is already an international success with properties and factories around the globe. Zhou heads the O.R.G. Packaging company that is sponsoring the games.
According to Zhou, he played hockey when he was a kid, but gave it up at age 18. In an article by The Globe and Mail, the businessman said the game was quite popular before the mid-1970s, when it was overshadowed by other sports.
The international billionaire businessman has kept the game close to his heart, however, which is why he has worked so hard to bring the NHL to China.
NHL Signs Multi-Year Deal With Bloomage International to Play First-Ever Preseason Games in China https://t.co/dDmZkPLzxy
— Pro Hockey News (@ProHockeyNews) March 30, 2017
China’s Growing Sports Power
In recent times, China has made attempts to grow in the sports world. The country has already invested heavily in soccer teams both inside and outside the country. China’s professional soccer league is paying large wages to players that rival those being offered in Europe, signaling a strong public interest in the sport to promote, improve and grow domestic players. This is seen as an investment by the government into youth sports in schools.
The country could do the same with ice hockey.
Although much different than soccer, China’s large population and growing middle and upper class could support a domestic league that is currently made up of mostly foreign talent.
China does have a team that plays in the Kontinental Hockey League.
In 2015, the country gained notoriety when Andong Song became the first Chinese player to be drafted into the NHL when the New York Islanders selected the former Lawrenceville player in the sixth round of the 2015 draft.
The #Isles select Andong Song of Lawrenceville School in NJ with the 172nd pick. Song is the first ever Chinese-born player selected.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 27, 2015
China’s Hockey Future
During the announcement of the preseason games, Bettman spoke about the NHL’s interest in helping China develop and improve its own top-level professional league. China is a country of 300 million people, and training youngsters to play the game at a grass roots level could see a boom in the country’s development. It is not out of the realm of possibility, China becomes one of the top ice hockey nations in just a few decades.
Kings, Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) March 30, 2017
If the Chinese government and private businesses invest in the sport like they have soccer, there is no reason why hockey cannot flourish in the country as well.
Written by Drew Farmer Special to HockeyClan