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NHL comes at a cost

By Murray Greig | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-25 07:43

Chinese hockey fans will shell out big bucks for the best view of flying pucks in Shanghai and Beijing next month.

Tickets for the inaugural NHL China Games went on sale via on the weekend, with seats for the preseason clashes between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings scaled from 220 - 2080 yuan ($32.50 to $307) for Sept 21 at Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai, and from 160 - 1880 yuan ($23.60 to $278) for Sept 23 at Wukesong Arena in Beijing.

Los Angeles will be designated the home team for the game in Shanghai and Vancouver will be the home team in the capital as both clubs look to build on the goodwill they established by sponsoring youth hockey camps in the cities over the past two years.

The Kings are led by three-time All-Star and former Norris Trophy (best defenseman) winner Drew Doughty, who helped Canada win gold at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

The Canucks roster boasts former Hart Trophy (league MVP) and Art Ross Trophy (top scorer) winner Henrik Sedin and his twin brother Daniel, a five-time All-Star.

The China Games are a joint effort of the National Hockey League, the NHL Players' Association, founding partner O.R.G. Packaging, Beijing Sports Bureau, Shanghai All-Sports Federation, Shanghai Sports Bureau, Beijing Sports Competitions Administrative Center, the Chinese Winter Sports Association and Bloomage International Culture and Sports Development Co Ltd.

In announcing the games during his visit to Beijing in March, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had struck a long-term deal to work closely with the sponsors and government bureaus to develop grassroots programs and support Chinese hockey development at all levels.

One of the first initiatives is to provide schools with training and instructional content to implement hockey programs that promote physical education, sportsmanship, teamwork and fitness.

"I knew when we came to China, based on all the reports I was getting, that there was a great deal of interest in hockey," Bettman said during his media conference.

"Still, the high level of that interest has surprised me, and it's particularly exciting because this is a great opportunity to grow the game.

"This is a long-term commitment to develop our sport here. We're barely in the embryonic stages, but the opportunity and the possibilities are limitless."

One of those possibilities is helping China develop a high-level domestic professional league.

"China needs to do more to develop native talent, but we can provide a big assist in helping them develop their own league, both in terms of producing their own players and in lending our assistance in setting up an infrastructure," said the commissioner, who stressed the China Games are the culmination of long-term planning.

"It was a confluence of things that just came together. Last fall we did the World Cup of Hockey to relaunch our international efforts, and that served as the foundation for our going to China.

"At around the same time the Chinese government identified winter sports, particularly hockey, as a priority ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. They want 300 million people playing winter sports by then.

"We decided, because of the partnerships we have with O.R.G Packaging and Bloomage, that we could bring some teams and start the efforts to bring more events here. We'll have clinics and educational events and conferences to get more and more Chinese kids developing as hockey players."

Zhao Xiaoyu, chairman of Kunlun Red Star's international advisory board, which includes NHL legends Phil Esposito and Mike Keenan, said China's lone entry in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League is likewise committed to growing the game.

"This is only the beginning; there is much hard work to be done between now and the 2022 Olympics to develop hockey in China... but we have a vision," Zhao said when the board was founded in February

"Years from now we hope to be able to look back and say that this was the first step in helping China realize the dream of becoming a powerhouse in world hockey."

Red Star reloading

Kunlun Red Star, China's second-year team in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, opened training camp in Harisau, Switzerland on the weekend, under new head coach Mike Keenan and assistant Bobby Carpenter.

Keenan, a Canadian who is the only coach to win both the KHL's Gagarin Cup (Magnitogorsk, 2014) and the NHL's Stanley Cup (New York Rangers, 1994) and Carpenter, who starred for the Washington Capitals for 18 years and was the first US-born NHLer to snipe 50 goals in a season, will spend the next month paring the roster before Red Star opens the season with an eight-game road trip, starting Aug 22 in Sochi.

Red Star's top offseason acquisitions were forwards Wojtek Wolski and Andrei Kostitsyn, both of whom starred in the NHL before jumping to the KHL. Keenan will be looking for the speedy duo to provide more offensive punch for Red Star, which finished eighth in the Eastern Conference last season before being eliminated by Magnitogorsk in the playoff quarterfinals.

Wolski, 31, had 99 goals and 267 points in 450 NHL games, mostly with the Colorado Avalanche, before signing with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in 2013. He was traded to Magnitogorsk in 2015, and last October in a game against Barys Astana he broke his neck and sustained a concussion, which left him unable to play the rest of the season. He has 65 goals and 138 points in 179 KHL games.

Kostitsyn, 32, was drafted 10th overall by Montreal in 2003 and sniped 103 goals and 222 points in 398 NHL games with the Canadiens and Nashville Predators. In 253 KHL games with Novgorod and Sochi, he has 75 goals and 162 points.

Following its extended season-opening road trip, Red Star will kick off a four-game home stand at Beijing's Wukesong Arena on Sept 9, against Helsinki-based Jokerit.

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