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NHL looks to break the ice in China with 2 preseason games in September

By William Hennelly | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-03-30 10:57

NHL looks to break the ice in China with 2 preseason games in September

After seeing how popular the NBA has become in China, the NHL probably figured it was time to get in the game there.

National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman was in Beijing on Thursday, where he was expected to announce that the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two preseason games in China in September.

The Kings are recent hoisters of the Stanley Cup, having taken it home in 2012 and 2014.

One game will be played at the LeSports Center in Beijing with the other likely in Shanghai, according to espn.com.

Le Sports Center, one of the venues for the 2022 Winter Olympics, is where Bettman will make the announcement.

Bettman looks forward to day that there is an "indigenous Chinese league that we could use our resources to set up and launch. It's an exciting, interesting opportunity that, based on the sheer magnitude of the market, can't be and shouldn't be ignored", Bettman told the Globe and Mail on March 23.

Some investors in China have expressed interest in NHL teams, and the league, which is headquartered in New York, has no restrictions on foreign ownership.

"They would be subject to the same ownership criteria as every other potential investor and subject to Board of Governors' approval, but anybody who has an interest in our league, we have an interest in them," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Globe and Mail.

In January, the NHL signed a five-year deal with Tencent to stream games. Tencent also carries NBA games and Premier League soccer.

Chinese hockey has a major benefactor in Zhou Yunjie, the chairman of metal can manufacturing company ORG Packaging. The billionaire who once played goaltender is a key point man in hockey's growth in China through NHL partnerships and sponsorships.

"As long as (TV networks) in China broadcast many more games in China, it will attract more people to notice the NHL, especially the youth hockey player," Zhou said. "Because there are many Chinese kids that have started learning hockey there."

President Xi Jinping visited pupils practicing ice hockey (bing qiu) at Beijing's Wukesong sports complex on Feb 24.

"He (the president) shook our hands. He also gave me a shoulder nudge (greetings typically exchanged by players when they score)," said Guan, 9.

Xi was inspecting the facility that will be a venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics, to be jointly hosted by Beijing and Zhangjiakou, North China's Hebei province. He told the children that he hoped to see some of them play for the country someday.

Xi told the officials gathered there that the Games have presented China with an opportunity to develop winter sports.

In a September visit to Canada, Premier Li Keqiang met with players from the NHL's Montreal Canadiens and dropped the first puck for a training match.

In June, the State Council released a national plan to have 300 million Chinese participating in different snow and ice games by 2020.

Many in the Western media typically call for a "Yao Ming"-type player for a new sport to catch on in China.

There's only one Yao Ming, but in 2015, Beijing-born defenseman Song Andong became the first Chinese player drafted by the NHL when he was selected 172nd overall by the New York Islanders.

According to the Beijing Hockey Association, 130 teams in five different age groups took to the ice during the Beijing Minor Hockey League season.

More than 3,000 junior players have registered with the association for weekly after-school practice sessions and competitions, said Su Jun, deputy director of the youth department of Beijing Sports Bureau.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact the writer at williamhennelly@chinadailyusa.com

 

 

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