Given the chance to go to China with Bruins Global, Boston Bruins forward Danton Heinen knew he wanted to see everything and try everything, whether that meant a trip to the Great Wall of China or a taste of duck feet. The former was more successful than the later.
"We've had some pretty interesting food," Heinen said from China on Friday. "That's been fun to try. We tried duck feet and duck liver. That was probably the two most interesting ones. The liver was better than the feet."
Heinen, along with Bruins forward Sean Kuraly, Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach and Bruins alumnus P.J. Stock, has spent the past 10 days on a trip to Beijing and Shenzhen, part of the third annual Bruins trip to China.
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This trip is different than the previous two because of what's coming in September: The 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games, when the Bruins and the Calgary Flames will play a pair of preseason games, on Saturday, Sept. 15 in Shenzhen and on Wednesday, Sept. 19 in Beijing.
Heinen and Kuraly, along with Calgary Flames assistant coach Martin Gelinas, finished up their stay with a press conference in Shenzhen on Monday to discuss the China Games. At the press conference, the participants jointly announced that early-bird tickets for the games in Beijing will be available for a limited time on damai.cn at 10 percent off beginning July 27 at 9 a.m. Beijing time, and Shenzhen early-bird tickets will be available the first week of August, with exact dates to be announced at a later time.
While the Bruins players have mostly gotten to play tourist on the trip, Gelinas has had other priorities like figuring out how best to prepare his players while the teams are in China, including setting up team-building exercises for the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
Gelinas has also paid particular attention to his body, and how he recovered from the time change, flying from Vancouver to Beijing. He wants to be able to help the players adjust.
"We're trying to find ways to keep the players entertained off ice, at the same time keeping our focus on the ice," Gelinas said. "It's more about the logistics about how everything works. It's all about preparation for camp and making sure the time we're here that we get the most out of it.
"Our main focus is on the ice and skating and preparing for the start of the season, but at the same time I think it's important -- we're coming all this way -- that we get a feel for their culture and what they're all about."
One of the highlights for both Heinen and Gelinas was conducting clinics for kids in Beijing. Gelinas said 20 kids participated in the clinic, with half a sheet of ice to work with.
"The other half was full of just public skating," Gelinas said. "The kids we had and were teaching, or just kind of playing games with, they were from 8 to 14 [years old] and the skill is surprising. They were very, very good. They were good listeners, they were good skaters, they had some good skills. I was most impressed with the kids on the ice."
Heinen found much the same.
"The kids have been attentive, wanting to learn," Heinen said. "You can see that some of them are pretty good already. I think it's just cool that we come from different backgrounds and different cultures and countries, but when you're on the ice, hockey brings you together. I think no matter how different we are, it's one thing we have in common."
The Bruins have been to China each of the past two summers, with forwards David Pastrnak and Matt Beleskey going in 2016, and Pastrnak returning in 2017 along with defenseman Torey Krug and goaltender Tuukka Rask. When the team approached Heinen about taking part in this year's version, including the opportunity to bring his 26-year-old brother Cody along, he jumped at the chance.
Neither Heinen nor Gelinas said they could anticipate what it will be like in September, when the Bruins and Flames take the ice for the third and fourth NHL preseason games in China -- after the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks played preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing last year in the 2017 NHL China Games -- both are getting a feel for how hockey is being welcomed in the country, and for just how far hockey's reach has extended.
"You want as many hockey fans as possible out there," Heinen said. "It doesn't matter where they are, as long as we can keep on growing the game, getting more fans, it's good for us."
Even though he's getting a preview of the September trip to China this summer, that doesn't mean Heinen is ready to serve as tour guide for his teammates.
"I hope not," he joked. "I'm just as lost as anybody."
Photos courtesy: Boston Bruins