NHL Takes Strong First Step In China, As Exhibition Is Received Positively By Fans
The Kings and Canucks played the first of two NHL exhibitions in China on Thursday, and while the "full impact" of the games "won’t be known for another five years, it still felt like the start of something," according to Ed Willes of the Vancouver PROVINCE. A "sparse but enthusiastic crowd of 10,088" came to Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai for the Kings' 5-2 win, which the NHL, NHLPA and both teams deemed a "qualified success" for the league's first foray into China. The teams were "engaging a crowd which didn’t seem terribly educated on the game’s finer points but did seem willing to learn." There were a combined 17 power plays in the game, and Canucks C Henrik Sedin said that the "large, Olympic-sized sheet of ice" contributed to the "disjointed play," along with the league's new crackdown on stick infractions. But the event "was about something much bigger than the size of the rink and power plays, something which has the power to change the game and the business of the game dramatically and permanently." The teams will play again Saturday in Beijing (THEPROVINCE.com, 9/21). The AP's Justin Bergman noted even if hockey is "relatively unknown in China and the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions of the sport." Every shot on goal was "met with a loud cheer and each hard check against the walls was met with a collective 'Oooh' or 'Aaah.'" But despite the positive reaction, it is "just the first step in a long process." Canucks coach Travis Green: "It's great for China itself to see the NHL live and in-person, see the speed of the game, how good the players are. But whenever you're bringing hockey to a new country, it's going to take time. I think it's great the NHL is committed to doing that" (AP, 9/21).
JUST GETTING STARTED: NBCSN's Brendan Burke said the contests in China are the "start of a long-term business plan to grow the game." The NHL "said they're going to be back," so this is "not a one-off." The NHL will be "back in China at least six times over the next eight years." NBCSN's Pierre McGuire noted the '22 Games are in Beijing, and "you have to think the NHL, with all this currency that they're spending over there, would love to have NHL players" competing in the Games ("Canucks-Kings," NBCSN, 9/21).