Alex Ovechkin was getting ready to leave China following a memorable five-day visit as an international ambassador for the NHL and the Washington Capitals forward was already talking about coming back.
"It was a great experience for me," Ovechkin said in a telephone interview with NHL.com Thursday. "I met lots of great people. I met lots of great kids. I met people who want grow hockey in China. It's been a great trip and, hopefully, I'll come back here next year, and we'll do some bigger stuff."
The NHL has played two games in China each of the past two preseasons, with the Los Angeles Kings facing off against the Vancouver Canucks in Shanghai and Beijing in 2017 and the Boston Bruins taking on the Calgary Flames in Shenzhen and Beijing in 2018. After skipping this preseason because of logistical reasons, the NHL plans to return to China in 2020-21, but has yet to decide which teams will participate.
[RELATED: Ovechkin completes China tour with 'unbelievable view' at Great Wall]
This was Ovechkin's second trip to China. His first was as a spectator at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
On this occasion, Ovechkin was there to help promote and grow the game. When he flies home to Moscow early Friday, he will take with him some lifetime memories.
Greeted at the airport by groups of children wearing his No. 8 jersey upon arrival Sunday, Ovechkin's fondness for and connection with children proved to be international.
A group of 40 players between the ages of 10 and 12 chanted "Ovi! Ovi!" when he joined them on the ice for a hockey clinic at Shougang Park in Beijing on Monday. He received a similar welcome when he arrived for a ball hockey clinic for 60 children Wednesday at the Bloomage Live International Sports and Culture Center in Banan, a new complex that includes one of the rinks where ice hockey will be played during the 2022 Winter Olympics.
"It was fun," Ovechkin said of the youth clinics. "Obviously, sometimes I don't understand what they want to tell me, but I think they will remember that moment for the rest of their lives and it was a great experience."
Ovechkin's trip also included a stop Sunday at the Renaissance Cup hockey tournament where he and Mr. Zhou Yunjie dropped the ceremonial first puck. Zhou is the chairman of ORG Technology, which sponsors the Renaissance Cup and is one of the biggest supporters of hockey in China.
"My hope, it's not only my hope, but all of the NHL hopes to raise hockey in China because it's a good country to raise hockey," Ovechkin said. "There's lots of people who don't know what hockey means and we tried to represent hockey is a great game. I know lots of people are interested in that and hopefully it will raise (interest)."
Ovechkin believes China has the potential to build a hockey culture but knows the sport is still in its embryonic stage there and there's a lot of work to be done in the coming years.
"I think it's very important for the Chinese people, the Chinese government to build lots of hockey rinks, bring some coaches here and learn the game, and I think they will do well," he said.
In addition to touring some of the other competition venues for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, Ovechkin worked some time for sightseeing into his busy schedule.
On Tuesday, he visited the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, a house of worship during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The following day, Ovechkin went to the Forbidden City, a complex in Beijing that houses the Imperial Palace, where Chinese emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties lived.
Ovechkin concluded his trip Thursday with a journey to the Great Wall of China, taking a chair lift to its highest point on the Mutianyu section, which is located north of Beijing and was first built around 550. He then slid back down the mountain on a toboggan ride.
"It was great," Ovechkin said. "It was hot weather. It was kind of far to walk, but it was a great experience. I think everybody enjoyed it. It's nice to see one of the greatest things in the world. Just to look at it and touch it, it was fun."
After returning from the Great Wall, Ovechkin enjoyed some restful moments at the Sunrise Kempinski Hotel in Beijing, which hosted China's 2016 G20 Science, Technology and Innovation Ministers Meeting. That seemed like a fitting place for Ovechkin to evaluate the impact of his ambassadorial mission.
"The big memory is just the whole experience: meeting with the Chinese people, seeing some different culture, learning some Chinese language and some Chinese food, obviously," he said. "We did everything we possibly we can, and I hope we will help to raise the idea of the game of hockey in China. We did our best."