SHANGHAI -- This is why they came.
After the Los Angeles Kings practiced at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Tuesday, they walked off the ice to greet a group of young Chinese hockey players. At first, the boys and girls stood on the sides, wearing the jerseys of their local teams, waiting patiently, clearing a path.
Then they swarmed.
There was Jonathan Quick, and Jeff Carter, and Anze Kopitar. The kids jumped up and down, held out jerseys and hats and markers, and squealed. There was Tanner Pearson, and there was …
Well, it didn't matter who it was. There was another NHL player right here in Shanghai.
Video: The Kings host youth clinic, sign autographs in China
The kids had to be held back again and again so the players could get off the ice. They had to be herded into a group for a photo with coach John Stevens, forward Michael Cammalleri and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.
"One, two, three!" an adult counted.
"Go, Kings!" the kids said.
The Kings and Vancouver Canucks are playing preseason games here Thursday (7:30 a.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) and at Wukesong Arena in Beijing on Saturday (3:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) in the 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging.
This is the NHL's first foray into China and the goal is to grow the sport in the most populated country in the world, home to 1.3 billion people but few hockey players.
This is how you start.
The kids went downstairs to put on their equipment in an attached ice rink and the Kings sent representatives to conduct a clinic: president Luc Robitaille, a Hockey Hall of Fame member; chief operating officer Kelly Cheeseman; TV analyst Jim Fox, a former Kings forward; radio analyst Daryl Evans, a former Kings forward; director of hockey programming and curriculum Derek Armstrong, a former Kings forward; and Bailey, the mascot.
The rink rolled out the red carpet for the Kings, literally. It also had banners for the Kings and the All-Star Skating Club alternating on the railings, on the front of the boards, on the back of the boards, on the pillars, on almost every surface there was.
"That was the idea when we talked about coming here," Robitaille said. "We thought it would help our brand. And to have the opportunity as a group to talk about and teach the game we love so much, it's just a lot of fun to be part of this."
Although this was Shanghai and there was a language barrier, it could have been Chicago or Shawinigan. Pictures of young hockey players hung on the wall downstairs, ads with NHL players upstairs. Parents laced skates, put on equipment and filmed with smartphones.
The kids lined up on the ice and tapped their sticks when the Kings were introduced, watched a video tribute to Robitaille and then went through drills and scrimmaged. The Kings would gesture their instructions, the kids would follow. The kids could play.
"I guess it was an example of the international language hockey can speak," Fox said. "I think they're very comparable to kids back in North America as far as skill level. You can see that some of the kids understood a little more than others. But you get their attention, show them once, and they do it."
At one point, Armstrong said to Fox: "We're in China. Can you believe it?"
"It was like any youth hockey clinic I've put on before," Fox said. "They were wanting to learn, they were having a great time and they made our experience great."