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GROWING THE GAME

Bill Daly talks about the impact of the NHL China Games

by GEORGE JOHNSON / CalgaryFlames.com

The 2018 O.R.G. China Games are only the second step in what the NHL hopes is planning on being a long walk together.

In the wake of a highly-successful initial two-game foray into China involving the L.A. Kings and Vancouver Canucks a year ago, the Flames and Boston Bruins are slated for another pair of tilts: at the Universiade Centre in Shenzhen on Sept. 15 and Beijing's Cadillac Arena four days later.

"It's a progression, for sure,'' says league deputy commissioner Bill Daly. "We were on the ground trying to introduce hockey from a league standpoint really two years ago and then after a full year of working on infrastructure and talking to people in the market, trying to develop a longer-term strategy with Bloomage and O.R.G., we were able to schedule two games with the Canucks and Kings.

"This is the next step in an increased presence in China.

"We have a multi-year deal with Bloomage International to continue to bring games to China in the future. It's a long-term commitment. Something the Players Association has embraced and partnered on.

"We're in the very early stages but I think certainly the interest in China is there, among all the governmental and sports agencies, who've embraced the prospect of building a hockey culture and hockey infrastructure, basically from scratch."

While details on the itinerary for this initiative remain in the planning stages, a year ago both the Kings and Canucks were involved in youth hockey clinics in both cities they played - Beijing and Shanghai - and the league staged a three-day interactive fan festival outside of Cadillac Arena that included beginner instruction in the game.

Coming on two decades ago, in 1998, of course, the Flames and San Jose Sharks participated in the Game ONe! a two-game, regular-season format held in Tokyo, following in the footsteps the year before of the Canucks and Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Another two Asian games - in Saitama, Japan - were held in 2000 and featured the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins, were held subsequently and kicked off the regular-season for both teams.

"The shortcoming of those games was that's really all there was,'' says Daly. "We brought two teams, we did a couple social events, played two regular-season games and then were gone.

"The difference in what we're trying to do in China is create a much more lasting presence. So it's not like the circus coming to town and then leaving after the weekend.

"Now it's about trying to develop the right relationships in China, the right governmental entities there. We're trying to introduce ball hockey and grassroots hockey into the Chinese community, invest some capital and work with our corporate partners to build from the ground up.

"Obviously in my lifetime we're not going to be the most popular sport in China. But there are so many people there, particularly young people, who want to embrace all sports, and the federal government's mission to increase participation of youth, in particular winter sports, and our sport can be a big beneficiary.

"What we're doing in China is a lot different than we did in Japan in the late 1990s."

Why settle on the Flames as one of the participants?

"Well, the organization had expressed a desire to participate when they could,'' replies Daly. "I will say they're not nearly alone among NHL teams in that. I think everyone's up for the opportunity.

"Everyone understands what we're trying to do over there and wants to be good league partners in doing it.

"And at this early stage I think we're inclined to straddle the border a little bit and bring a U.S.-based club and a Canadian-based club."

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