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China Games

Kings ready for 'cool experience' at 2017 China Games

Players taking advantage of perks that come with NHL's first foray into Chinese market

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika and Lisa Dillman / Staff Writers

SHANGHAI -- One day last season, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez broke some news to his teammates as one of their NHL Players' Association representatives.

"I remember him saying something like, 'The NHL wants us to go to China,'" goaltender Jeff Zatkoff said. "I think initially everyone was like, 'Man, that's a long ways to go for a couple of games.' But I think once it came out that we were going, everyone was like, 'This is going to be a cool experience.'"

Well, it certainly is a long ways to go for a couple of games.

The Kings took off from L.A. at 2 p.m. PT on Sunday, flew for 13 1/2 hours and 6,500 miles, and landed in Shanghai at 6:30 p.m. local time Monday. Then they cleared customs and took a bus to their hotel.

They play preseason games against the Vancouver Canucks at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai on Thursday (7:30 a.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) and Wukesong Arena in Beijing on Saturday (3:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports) in the 2017 China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging.

But as unusual as this might be for an NHL road trip, it isn't that unusual for the coaches and players. Europeans are used to long travel coming to North America. Many North Americans have played internationally. Lots of players have been on buses in juniors and the minors.

Video: Cotsonika travels to Shanghai with the Kings 

"You get much worse horror stories than getting on a nice plane and flying overseas," said Kings coach John Stevens, who remembered taking a 15-hour bus ride from Norfolk, Virginia, to Quebec City once in the American Hockey League, and going from Philadelphia to Cincinnati to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Milwaukee and back to Philadelphia another time.

"It can be an excuse if you want to use it. So we try to remove that from their options."

The Kings sought advice from a sleep consultant, who told them to put sleep in the bank before the trip, to stay hydrated and not to sleep too much on the plane so they could get their bodies on China's schedule as quickly as possible.

The players had first-class seats and plenty of food to eat. Most brought movies and video games. One brought homework. Zatkoff left Miami (Ohio) University 37 credits short of an accounting degree and has been taking classes so he can graduate. He is taking two while playing right now -- business law and psychology -- and had a textbook in his carry-on bag.

"I think some [teammates] know I'm probably taking classes, but they haven't seen me doing any homework," Zatkoff said. "Usually I do it at home. I'm sure if I bust out the books on the plane, they'll probably look at me like, 'What are you doing?'"

Stevens said the Kings would go for a walk as a group Monday night and sleep in Tuesday morning. He wants two good days of practice and two good games.

"There's lots we need to work on," Steven said. "We know that. Lots we need to improve on, and get other people in the lineup. We're looking for a good week of preparation outside of the fact it's going to be in China."

 Video: Gary Bettman on the NHL preseason games in China

But this is more than a couple of games. This is the NHL's first foray into the Chinese market. China is the most populated country in the world, and Shanghai and Beijing are two of the most populated cities in the world. The Kings will conduct meet-and-greets and clinics with young players.

This is also a chance to see a country many of the Kings haven't seen before. They will have free time to explore and plan to visit the Great Wall on Friday.

"It's going to be fun, a lot of fun, and new culture and everything," forward Adrian Kempe said. "You get to see some new things. I think it's going to be really good, and I'm looking forward to it."

In a sense, the trip might not be long enough.

"I mean, who knows if you'll ever get a chance to go back?" Zatkoff said. "So I think now once you kind of get over the travel aspect of it, everyone's excited. I told the guys, 'If I say I'm tired, just smack me and wake me up, because we're only here for a week, so you've got to take advantage of your time over there.'"

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