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Calgary Inferno played four games in China last season and know what the Flames can expect

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

With the Flames set to participate in the O.R.G. NHL China Games this September, they could take a few been there/done that tips from their female counterparts, the Canadian Women's Hockey League's Calgary Inferno.

They know what to expect, having made the 10,594-km trek to Shenzhen, China for four regular-season games, Feb. 3-9 of this year, against the CWHL's two first-year China entries - Kunlun Red Star, owned by the KHL franchise of the same name, and the Vanke Rays.

"They definitely know how to host people there,'' praises Inferno GM Kristen Hagg. "We were treated extremely well.

"The community was fairly engaged. A lot of people came out to the games. I'd compare it a bit to Vegas, where they put on a big show, a lot of entertainment going on.

"Hockey fans there are different. They sit and watch the entire time. The puck crosses the red line and the crowd starts getting excited and when it was anywhere near the net they get real excited.

"But nobody's jumping up and cheering. A lot of polite clapping. I can't ever picture them being … raucous.

"It's a different culture. They enjoy sport differently than we do.

"But they enjoy it.

"The atmosphere when we played was good."

The Flames are set to play the Boston Bruins in the 18,000-seat Shenzhen Dayun Arena, where the Inferno went 3-1 on their travels, as well as another pre-season date versus the Bruins in Beijing.

Augmented by North American talent, the Chinese entries performed well in their inaugural CWHL turns, Kunlun ousting the Inferno in a best-of-three semifinal that went the max, the final game a 1-0 affair that reached triple OT, before falling 2-1, again in overtime, to the Markham Thunder in the Clarkson Cup finale.

With the 2022 Olympics being held in Beijing, much effort and many renminbi (the local currency) will be pumped into winter sports by the host country.

Inferno captain Erica Kromm anticipates the Chinese making significant competitive strides between now and 2022.

"Coaching is such an important part of the equation," she says. "And the fact they're able to pour money into that, into hiring someone, is great. Playing with and against a bunch of North American players now really helps them, too.

"I know I got better being on a team with Olympians because you have to keep up to their level in practice and games.

"Just on those factors, I expect them to progress, for sure."

The Flames are kicking off training camp in China in early September. The Inferno's trip, by contrast, dovetailed into the heart of their regular season.

"The physical and mental preparation was a huge thing for us,'' says Hagg. "We were at a very critical point in our season, coming off a couple of difficult losses and really needed to win the games there.

"We played a game a day after we arrived. The players took a great amount of care in making sure they slept a certain number of hours on the plane, had the proper nutrition and hydration.

"We kept our game very simple because you've got the jet-leg in the legs."

So any advice for the Flames?

"It'd just be to take everything in stride and enjoy it," says Kromm. "I know we didn't take the opportunity for granted.

"To be able to promote the game and experience international travel of that nature playing hockey is a pretty cool thing."

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