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China Games

Kings, Canucks get down to 'business' in Shanghai

Hold practice, take in sights of 'beautiful city' ahead of 2017 China Games

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / Columnist

SHANGHAI -- It was as surreal as expected at times Tuesday. Here we were on the other side of the world, in a place the NHL had never been before. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks were practicing at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, on the banks of the Huangpu River, with the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and Shanghai Tower in the distance. Fog hung over the ice. Usually, it dissipates as players skate. This time, it thickened. Mercedes-Benz Arena was built for concerts, had never hosted hockey before and didn't have dehumidifiers like at home.

This is why the teams practice again here Wednesday before playing preseason games here Thursday (7:30 a.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) and at Wukesong Arena in Beijing on Saturday (3:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) in the 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging.



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"We knew it was going to be a challenging environment," said Mike Craig, NHL senior manager of facility operations. "So it gives us some time to work through some challenges we do have."

For the most part, though, it isn't that challenging. Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city that makes Europeans and North Americans feel at home. The team hotels are surrounded by familiar stores. Many signs are in English as well as Chinese. Kings coach John Stevens went for a morning run to the Bund, where old colonial buildings line one side of the river and modern skyscrapers line the other.

"I was fascinated just by the activities going on outside -- tai chi on the water, people walking, exercising -- and just the fact that it was such a clean city," Stevens said. "We ran 2 1/2 miles down to the water and all the way back, and it was uninterrupted. Beautiful city, and we've only seen a small part of it."

Mercedes-Benz Arena might not have been built to be a hockey rink. It might have international-sized ice for this event and a gap between the boards and first row of suites. It might sell fermented milk at the concession stands. But it's an AEG building like Staples Center in Los Angeles, with a stack of suites between the upper and lower bowls. The NHL staged it as the League stages arenas for all big events, logos everywhere.

"We walk in, and it feels like any other rink," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "Everything is very high standards. They've done a great job of preparing everything so we can focus on hockey."

Video: A quick tour of Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai

The Canucks and Kings practiced as they would anywhere else they were having training camp, coaches barking and drawing on the whiteboard, players huffing and puffing.

"I'll be honest: It felt like a road day," Stevens said. "The travel from the hotel was like it would normally be. It wasn't that long of a commute to get over here. The rink was set up when we got here, and I thought we had a good workout. It terms of the hockey part, it was business as usual."

As it should be. The teams are taking in the sights, but this is a business trip with dual purposes: to prepare for the regular season and promote the game in a country of 1.3 billion people. A small contingent of Chinese media attended the practices and press conferences Tuesday. Some questions came in halting English or had to be translated, and were basic.

How often do you practice? How long? What difficulties have you encountered? How did you overcome them?

The biggest question will come Thursday. It will be basic, too, but viewed differently from the Chinese and North American perspectives. What is an NHL game like in Shanghai?

"I just think it's fantastic the Canucks and the Kings have come across and the NHL has put this together," Canucks coach Travis Green said. "Any time you can showcase hockey around the world, I think it's a great opportunity. It's a great experience for the players and hopefully the Chinese people themselves to see NHL hockey and exactly how good these players are." Staff Writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.

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