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Gelinas teaches hockey camp during fact-finding trip to the Chinese cities Flames will visit this fall

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The O.R.G. NHL China Games kick-off media conference had just broken up at the 18,000-seat Shenzhen Dayun Arena early Monday afternoon (late Sunday evening in Calgary).

"Someone was telling me 30 years ago there were 30,000 people living here,'' Flames' emissary (and assistant coach) Martin Gelinas is saying, of the first stop on the team's two-game exhibition tour against the Boston Bruins this September. "And now there are 13 million. Tell me that's not crazy."

Gelinas and Director of Team Operations Sean O'Brien are in the process of winding up a checking-out-the-landscape/fact-finding mission ahead of the Flames' fall visit.

"Both set-ups,'' reports Gelinas, "are good. It's interesting because there are two very different cultures in the cities.

"The rink here is Shenzhen is beautiful. We were grateful they had the air conditioning on for the press conference. In Beijing, because the ice surface wasn't installed, the air conditioning was turned off and touring the building, let me tell you, it was hot.

"There's a lot to think about. We wanted to scout out what's around the hotel for the players and there a lot of good restaurants. We're trying to figure out where RVA (strength and conditioning coach Ryan Van Asten) can have a team stretch.

"These might seem like little things but you want to keep as much to your usual routine as possible once the players get here."

As Gelinas noted, he and O'Brien spent the opening three days of the junket in the Chinese capital, where the game and practice venue for the Sept. 19 game is the 14,000-seat Cadillac Arena.

"Logistically, things are a little different here, the way the dressing rooms are set up and so on. So it was good we got a feel for it.

"We took a day to visit the Great Wall of China. Really cool … and the Forbidden City was fascinating.

"We do have a day off and we're trying to do a team-building exercise, giving the players a feel for the culture, away from the rink.

"I mean, you come all this way, you've gotta see the Great Wall of China."

Gelinas and O'Brien have also gathered valuable intel on how the players will react to the long trip and faraway time zone.

"It's going to be tough for the players because the first day we got here, like it or not, you're tired. The time change (14 hours), it's an adjustment," says Gelinas.

"Now we've been about, what, six, seven days? And we're pretty much back in the groove. You still find yourself getting up early from time to time, though, looking at the clock, and seeing it's still 3 o'clock or 3:30."

Sunday, Gelinas conducted an hour-and-a-half on-ice clinic at one of a number of ice surfaces installed in local malls, assisted by a Chinese coach, with 20 kids attending.

"I am pleasantly surprised at the interest here. People a little bit in tune with the game are trying to learn more about it. They want to be associated with it.

"It's a good situation for the league. It'll be interesting for our team. A win-win situation."

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