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China Games

Visit to Great Wall unforgettable for Kings, Canucks

Teams tour historic structure on off day during NHL China Games

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

BEIJING -- Luc Robitaille is the NHL record-holder for goals by a left wing, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players. He is president of the Los Angeles Kings.

But he was just another tourist on Friday standing on the Great Wall of China, a structure that stretches for thousands of miles with a history that stretches for hundreds of years.

"It reminds us of how small we really are," he said.

 

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You couldn't help but see the big picture up there with the Kings and Vancouver Canucks, studying how the Great Wall snakes through the mountains, gazing out at the vistas of this vast land. Assuming you didn't do it with the camera app all day.

"I always find if you are looking at the phone all the time and taking pictures," Kings forward Dustin Brown said, "you don't really see it."

The Kings and Canucks faced each other at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai on Thursday in the first NHL game ever played in China, a 5-2 preseason victory for Los Angeles. They play again at Wukesong Arena here on Saturday (3:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) in the finale of the 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging.

 

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In between they boarded the same plane, sat in separate compartments and flew for 1 1/2 hours from Shanghai to Beijing. After landing, they walked through the airport. one group after the other.

They rode separate buses for another 1 1/2 hours to the Great Wall but arrived at the same time in the same parking lot. They walked up the hill, one group after the other, before going their separate ways on the Great Wall -- Canucks to the left, Kings to the right.

"It's something you don't want to miss," Canucks coach Travis Green said. "It's an experience worth missing a practice, for sure."

Video: Kings, Canucks tour Great Wall of China

The players got great leg workouts anyway, climbing an ancient step machine.

"You hear about it and you see pictures, but it really doesn't do it justice until you get a chance to actually see it in person," Canucks forward Sam Gagner said. "We're all pretty excited to be here. It's pretty amazing."

Afterward, the teams went to the same reception. They stayed separate for the most part but mingled a little -- by choice or by chance. Brown called it "a little weird" being around each other all day, because they're "just not used to it."

"Last night we're in battle, and again tomorrow, but today it's kind of everyone in it together," Gagner said. "Got a chance to talk to those guys a little bit. We're both enjoying this experience. It's been a lot of fun."

This has been a valuable experience for each team individually.

Each cut its roster for this trip. Each flew in its own plane across the Pacific Ocean. Each went on excursions to places like the French Concession, the Yu Gardens and the Bund in Shanghai, and held team dinners.

When you take small groups, put them in close quarters and give them shared experiences in a foreign country, it's a great bonding opportunity.

"It's nice to kind of get away for a week, actually, and get to know the guys better -- for me especially, since it's a new team," said Canucks forward Thomas Vanek, who signed with Vancouver as a free agent on Sept. 1.

But the Kings and Canucks have been in this together the whole time.

They traveled to a nation with 1.3 billion people but few hockey players. Celebrities at home, they are largely anonymous here. They have a shared mission, to promote the game, and have made shared sacrifices for it. They have had similar experiences doing it. They should have a unique bond, even if it's a little weird.

They will always be the first NHL teams to have played in China.

Remember when some of the Canucks tried eating bugs? Remember when Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson bought a red Chinese jacket by haggling at a market and wore it to the game in Shanghai? Remember when the fans "oohed" and "aahed" for everything? When Kings forward Adrian Kempe scored the first goal?

Remember when a group of Canucks climbed to the highest point of the Mutianyu stretch of the Great Wall, a stretch that dates to 1368, and took a group photo holding a Chinese flag? Remember when the Kings came down from the Great Wall on a slide? When Brown was in a pack with teammates Trevor Lewis and Nick Shore, trying to get the best of them?

"Bump and run," Brown said.

They'll always remember this.

"This is something I don't think you'll ever forget," Vanek said.

NHL.com Staff Writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report

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