VANCOUVER -- Training camp is an important time for team building in hockey, but the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings are looking forward to an unprecedented opportunity to help build the sport itself this year by playing two preseason games against each other in China.
The 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging include a game between the Canucks and Kings at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai on Sept. 21, and a game at Wukesong Arena in Beijing on Sept. 23. But the impact of the trip goes beyond playing the first NHL games in China.
"It's going to be fun trying to grow the game in different parts of the world, so hopefully we can put on a good show for them," Canucks center Bo Horvat said at the opening of training camp Tuesday. "I hear they are building tons of rinks over there to try to grow the game and I think it is going to be good for the game and good for the Canucks."
The 2017 NHL China Games are a joint effort of 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. The Canucks and Kings have already held youth hockey camps in China as part a larger League initiative to grow the sport globally, but Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty can't wait for new fans to experience the game he loves in person.
"For the team, I'm really excited about it," Doughty said at the Kings practice facility in El Segundo, California, on Tuesday. "For the game of hockey, I'm excited about it. I know they are going to have a lot of fun watching the game of hockey. When you watch the game of hockey live, it is completely different than watching it on TV. It is the one sport [that is] definitely better live."
The Canucks are scheduled to leave Vancouver on Sunday at about noon and arrive in China on Monday at about 4 p.m. (the flight should be about 11 hours). For the Canucks, with several older veterans who don't usually play many preseason road games, it's a long trip before the season, but the players feel it is worth it to promote the sport.
"It's a big market over there and if we can get them interested in our brand and sport it's going to be huge for us," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 on Sept. 26. "Hockey is fairly big there, they have a team in the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) and it's growing, so I think it's good for our League to get in there."
It's also a great opportunity to see another part of the world.
"Hockey brings you to some amazing places in the world that you never thought you would [go to]," Kings forward Michael Cammalleri said. "Get to see some cool stuff I may never have seen."
Vancouver defenseman Erik Gudbranson is a frequent flyer in the offseason. He was in Africa when the Canucks acquired him in a trade from the Florida Panthers on May 25, 2016, and visited Greece and Italy this summer. He is looking forward to having his teammates with him for his first trip to China.
"We all grew up playing hockey to play in the NHL and are kind of flabbergasted the sport has brought us all the way to Asia," Gudbranson said. "I am excited to see what that country is like."
Players from each team said the trip presents a unique way to bond before the season, something that could be especially important to the Canucks, who added six new players in free agency.
"You try and find situations where guys leave their phones at home," Gudbranson said.
What better way than experiencing something entirely new together?
"A new culture," Canucks forward Brandon Sutter said. "We're hopefully going to get to see the Great Wall of China and we'll have a couple fun days to tour around. Guys are getting excited for it."
NHL.com staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.