MELBOURNE, Australia -- The Los Angeles Kings gathered on the field at the Melbourne Cricket Ground wearing the black and white of the Collingwood Magpies of the Australian Football League. A photographer asked them to look at the camera.

"Can we get a 'Go Pies' on three?" someone asked. "One. Two. Three."

"Go Pies!" they yelled, some of them punching fists into the air, laughing.

Then they saw the Magpies defeat the Greater Western Sydney Giants 58-57 before a crowd of 97,665 in the AFL Preliminary Finals on Friday night. Collingwood advanced to the Grand Final, the AFL’s version of the Super Bowl.

The NHL came to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time hoping to attract people to a new sport in the 2023 NHL Global Series -- Melbourne, two preseason games between the Kings and Arizona Coyotes at Rod Laver Arena. It succeeded in more ways than one.

"Oh, yeah," Kings forward Kevin Fiala said. "It was wild. It felt like there were no rules. Guys running around, no helmets, no nothing. It was probably the coolest sport I've ever seen in my life."

Kings and Coyotes enjoy some Australian Football

The Coyotes attended the match too, and said much the same thing.

"My comment would be this: How come this is not a worldwide sport?" Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny said. "That's entertaining. It's tough. It's fast. It was great. I loved it."

Let's set the scene: The Melbourne Cricket Ground, also known as the MCG, dates to 1853 and is the largest stadium in the Southern Hemisphere. The Magpies go back to 1892 and are one of the most popular teams in Aussie rules football, maybe the most popular.

This was like going to an NFL game for the first time and seeing the Dallas Cowboys win the NFC championship game by one point at home.

The Magpie Army vastly outnumbered the Giants supporters, taunting them with the haunting chant, "COLLL-IIING-WOOOD!" The Magpies ran onto the field with fire and fireworks shooting into the air to the tune of the club's song, "Good Old Collingwood Forever."


"Oh, the premiership's a cakewalk

"For the good old Collingwood."

Aussie rules football is played on an oval-shaped field with 18 players a side. The field is so large, it is about an American football field wide and 1 ½ American football fields long.

"You don't have a sense for what's going to happen until you're down there," Kings coach Todd McLellan said. "That field was massive, and some of the players that wandered out around us as they were warming up were massive too. You can't tell that from 50, 60 rows up."

It's humbling to sit amid thousands of people reacting to things you don't understand. Imagine, say, a new hockey fan listening to a crowd reacting to offside or icing calls.

But you don't have to understand the intricacies of Aussie rules football to appreciate the game -- and to appreciate why the NHL thinks Australians might like hockey. The sport has non-stop action with speed, skill and physicality.

A North American might see elements of more familiar sports: punts, field goals, jump balls, Hail Marys, fumble recoveries, tackles, bodychecks, open-ice hits.

"Madness," Kings forward Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "Once I understood the rules a bit more and more, you kind of understand a little bit the tactics behind it. It was fun to watch. A lot of competitiveness. A lot of warriors out there just battling for every inch. It was really cool."

The match was a seesaw Friday night. The Giants led 28-18 at halftime and 35-18 in the third quarter, but the Magpies fought back. The score was tied 51-51 when Mason Cox, a 6-foot-11 American, kicked a goal to put Collingwood ahead 57-51.

"U-S-A!" the fans chanted. "U-S-A!"

Cox grew up in the Dallas area watching the Dallas Stars. He met with Dubois and taught him how to drop punt for a photo op Wednesday, and he will drop the puck when the Kings and Coyotes play at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.

The game will start at 12 p.m. ET and air on NHL Network and ESPN+ in the United States; Sportsnet and Sportsnet+ in Canada; and 9Go, 9Now, ESPN and the ESPN App in Australia.

Dubois might recruit Cox to play. The Kings lost to the Coyotes 5-3 in the preseason opener Saturday.

"We've seen (former defenseman) Zdeno Chara at 6-9 in the League," Dubois said with a smile. "He's 6-11, so put him on skates. He'd be a pretty big guy out there. It'll be fun to see him out there."

Well, it was fun to see him at the MCG, anyway.

"It was an amazing experience to get to go see that," Dubois said. "It was great. I will be trying to follow it from North America. I am a fan now. It's official."

NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report

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