Not long after the Boston Bruins announced a partnership with O.R.G. Packaging last year, they approached a few of their players about heading to China over the summer to take part in Bruins Global: China 2016. Forward Matt Beleskey was happy to take them up on it.
Beleskey, along with forward David Pastrnak, will head to Beijing and Shanghai from July 11-23, touring the country and hosting several youth clinics. Bruins alumni Andrew Raycroft, Bob Sweeney and members of the Boston Bruins Youth Hockey Development team also will be on the trip.
The group will get to take in the sights - the Great Wall of China and Forbidden City are on tap, and Beleskey is particularly looking forward to sampling the local cuisines - but their mission is larger than that, leading on- and off-ice training for more than 150 Chinese youth hockey players. There will also be a media roundtable, hosted by O.R.G., to discuss growing the sport with Chinese officials, state media and others.
"They wanted to bring some guys over and kind of show us around and teach some kids how to play the game," Beleskey said on Friday. "I thought it was just a great experience to be able to go there and do it that way, to have someone show you the way in China."
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The Bruins also hosted 22 Chinese youth hockey players from the Beijing Hockey Association in February, including clinics and games against New England youth hockey teams. It's something that the team will repeat each year of the five-year contract, with a different group of Chinese youth hockey players each time.
Going to China wasn't exactly on Beleskey's bucket list, but when he listened to the pitch from the Bruins, he and his wife got excited about the chance to go, to tour and teach and have someone smooth the way. Plus, there's the food.
"Just trying all the food and culture," Beleskey said. "I'm a huge food guy when I travel. I've obviously been reading up on everything, their street food, and I think Shanghai is famous for these soup dumplings that are supposed to be great. I'm just looking forward to that. I love going different places and trying different cuisines. I think this is going to be a whole new world of it."
It's a new experience for Beleskey, like it was when he settled into his life in Boston. It was one year ago that Beleskey signed for five years, after he hit unrestricted free agency, having spent the past seven seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. He has bought a home in the Boston suburbs with a backyard and "a little bit of quiet," as Beleskey put it.
And he's eagerly anticipating, once the summer is over, getting back on the ice and improving on what was, ultimately, a disappointing first year. He was happy to see the moves the team recently made, including the addition of old Western Conference foe David Backes.
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As he put it, "He's a guy that playing against I hated playing against him. Those are usually the guys I like the most on my team."
It's just one of the things that gives him hope for the season.
"It's going to be good," said Beleskey, who had 15 goals and 37 points in 80 games last season. "I'm looking forward to it. I think last year we had a little bit of growing pains going through it. In the end we didn't finish how we wanted, but I think everyone's going to come back hungry and ready to go and, I'm obviously looking to be a bigger part of our team this year and hopefully to get us where we want to go."
Which, of course, is the postseason. The Bruins missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive year, and was the first early summer for the left wing since 2011-2012, when he was with the Ducks. It's not something he would like to repeat.
"I think they made it very easy on me to adjust, come in, it was easy," Beleskey said. "But it's just different. Leaving a city, walking in a different dressing room every day, it's a different feeling. But I think now we're ready, we're comfortable, we bought a home in Boston now. We're settled.
"I'm just looking forward to getting next year started and doing what I know this team can do."