The NHL announced Thursday morning in Beijing that the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two preseason games in China in September as part of the 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging.
The first game will be played Sept. 21 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, and the second Sept. 23 at Wukesong Arena in Beijing, where NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made the historic announcement.
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"This is an historic moment for the National Hockey League." Commissioner Bettman said. "I am honored to announce the 2017 NHL China Games, presented by O.R.G. Packaging."
The 2017 NHL China Games is a joint effort organized by the NHL, the NHL Players' Association, presenting sponsor O.R.G. Packaging and Bloomage International Group, a China-based, privately owned corporation devoted to expanding sports and promoting a healthy lifestyle across the country.
Video: Commissioner Bettman announces NHL games in China
In addition to the NHL and the NHLPA, representatives from the Chinese government, the Kings and Canucks were present for the announcement, which further advances the League's international strategy and its commitment to grow the game globally.
"The 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging represent the formal launch of what we hope will be a long and successful collaboration between our League, our teams and our partners in accelerating the development of hockey in China," Commissioner Bettman said. "We look forward to our first games in China and to a variety of initiatives that will inspire generations of Chinese players and fans to enjoy our sport. We recognize the importance of helping China build a strong national hockey program and are committed to supporting that priority in every way possible."
And though these will be the first NHL games played in China, both the Kings and the Canucks have held youth hockey camps there. Trevor Linden, the Canucks president of hockey operations, described the opportunity as a first step "to figure out a sustainable long-term plan to be involved in the development of their hockey culture in China. This isn't about doing some one off games but to be integrated at the grass-roots level. The games we play here in September are a nice piece of it, but if it's not backed up with grass-roots support, it doesn't make sense. It's going to be a comprehensive program. I know that's the NHL's plan and certainly that's the Vancouver Canucks' plan."
Ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China is committed to expanding its participation in winter sports to upwards of 300 million people over the next five years. To that end, the NHL is committed to working with sports bureaus across China to help develop grass-roots hockey programs. In addition to the Canucks and the Kings, the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals have conducted hockey camps for Chinese youth, either in China or North America, over the past few years.
"The NHLPA is committed to growing hockey internationally, and the players fully appreciate the opportunity ahead in the coming years to expand the game's footprint," said Mathieu Schneider, the NHLPA's special assistant to executive director Donald Fehr. "Bringing NHL players to China for two games in September will give both current and potential new fans in Shanghai and Beijing a chance to watch some of the best hockey players in the world."
Video: Schneider on NHL growing the game in China
In January, the Kings invited O.R.G. Packaging chairman Zhou Yunjie to attend the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game as their guest. Luc Robitaille, the Kings president of business operations, arranged for Zhou to play goalie in the 2017 All-Star Celebrity Shootout, where he got a chance to stop shots from pop star Justin Bieber, among others. Zhou is a fervent recreational player who said his company's new partnership with the NHL will not only give O.R.G. "the opportunity to introduce the world's best hockey league to more young players in China, but also a platform for sports and culture exchanges between the two countries, which will in turn contribute to the Chinese ice hockey talent pool."
AEG, the Kings' parent company, owns the facility in Shanghai, which Robitaille spent a few days visiting prior to the announcement in Beijing.
"First and foremost, it's a great opportunity for the NHL to establish ourselves here," Robitaille said. "Everybody knows hockey is going to be prominent here in 2022. We're aware the government, the people in China, are trying to promote hockey.
"We brought some kids from China to do some clinics at Toyota Sports Center and then we actually sent a couple of alumni last year here to do some clinics.
"It's definitely an opportunity to promote the game."
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The Kings and Canucks will be offering travel packages. Additional information will be published on each team's website as it becomes available.
Further details regarding the 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging will be released at a later date, including ticketing and broadcast information