LONDON - The NHL's season-opening series in London proved to be quite a success, and more trips to Europe are expected.
The Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings split a pair of games at the O2 Arena over the weekend in the first regular-season NHL games to be played in Europe.
"The fans were cheering. The tube (subway) was packed," NHL senior vice-president Ken Yaffe said Monday. "It was like a playoff-championship game atmosphere."
Fans from Britain, some wearing shirts bearing the emblems of Elite Ice Hockey League teams Manchester Phoenix and Belfast Giants, mixed with other Europeans, Canadians and Americans who made the trip to fill the O2 to capacity. The Kings won the first game 4-1, and the Ducks won the second by the same score.
But the outcome meant little to many of the local fans who came to see a pair of hockey games in a country obsessed with soccer.
"I know what our value is in many European countries," Yaffe said. "I had little sense of it in the UK."
Yaffe said the main criticism he heard about the weekend was the lack of coverage in the local media. Despite reporters from a variety of news organizations in the United States and Canada, many of London's newspapers wrote hardly a word.
"We didn't expect that we would be sitting atop the Rugby World Cup," said Yaffe, referring to the tournament currently going on in France. "We don't have any misconceptions about where we are in the sports landscape."
But even if hockey is relegated to an also-ran in the British media, there are plenty of other places in Europe that would love to see an NHL game come to town.
"Prague would be a natural place for us to go," said Yaffe, adding the NHL had made no commitments yet. "We're looking at it. We'd love to play there."
And there could more trips after that, especially with about 33 per cent of the players in the NHL from Europe.
"We'd love to play in the Nordics. We'd love to play in Germany," Yaffe added. "We're talking to NHL teams to see who's interested."