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China Games

Mercedes-Benz Arena ready for 2017 China Games

Shanghai rink set for Canucks, Kings thanks to former GM of Coyotes home

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SHANGHAI -- The first question:

"Does your ice plant work?"

This was last fall, when the NHL was exploring the idea of playing in Shanghai. Mercedes-Benz Arena had never hosted a hockey game before, and Dan Craig, the League ice guru, started with the most basic thing.

The truth was, Jim Foss, the general manager of the arena, wasn't sure. The ice plant hadn't been turned on since long before he arrived in China from the United States in August 2015.

"We better find out," Foss said.

Obviously, the ice plant works. The Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings will play a preseason game at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Thursday (7:30 a.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) as part of the 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging.

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

But it certainly wasn't as simple as flipping a switch to stage the first NHL game in China.

To appreciate how we got here, listen to the story of how Foss got here. He used to be the GM of what is now called Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Arizona Coyotes. One day he received a phone call from AEG, the company that manages Mercedes-Benz Arena and other venues like Staples Center in Los Angeles.

How about a job in Shanghai?

He had never been here before. His biggest concerns were whether Mercedes-Benz Arena would run like a North American arena and whether he would be able to communicate with the staff.

But he and his family decided to go, and after they moved into an expat community in the city, he discovered that Shanghai isn't as intimidating as expected. It's modern, cosmopolitan and clean.

He discovered that his concerns about the arena and staff were unfounded too.

Mercedes-Benz Arena was built for the 2010 World Expo with the vision of hosting concerts and events. It has 18,000 seats and 82 luxury suites with high-end technology and amenities. The young staff grew up with English as a second language.

"It's an arena," Foss said. "It's in a different country, but it's an arena. It runs like a North American arena. Very solid. Very good staff …

"It was an easy transition stepping in. Communication was easy."

Mercedes-Benz Arena has hosted international artists like the Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift and Chinese favorites like Jacky Cheung and Faye Wong. It has hosted sporting events like basketball games and wrestling shows.

Hockey was another matter. Until now.

When they tested the ice plant, the people at Mercedes-Benz Arena had to do more than make sure it worked. They had to make sure it worked to NHL standards. Craig asked them to send him data on the hour to see how fast the floor dropped to the right temperature.

They had boards and Plexiglas for international-sized ice. But they needed to borrow a Zamboni from another rink and nail down countless little things with help from the League to stage a game in a new sport -- and to do it right the first time at the highest level. They were setting up dehumidifiers as the teams practiced Wednesday.

Video: Sights and Sounds: Mic'd Up at Kings practice

"It's a learning curve," Foss said. "I have a pretty good idea having worked with the League and the [Coyotes] for a while on what's needed, and there's a lot of details to put on NHL games, from the ice quality to television, where the cameras go, all the details that go in.

"So it's been a good challenge. The staff has adapted well. I think moving forward next year if the [NHL] chooses to come back here, we've taken lots of photos, lots of videos. Details, details, details. The team is embracing those and is making notes."

You never know until you try.

"We're really excited about the opportunity," Foss said. "We hope the League comes back and the players have a good experience. Really, if the players have a good experience, the fans have a good experience, that's a perfect marriage."

Video: Sights and Sounds: VAN holds 2nd practice in Shanghai

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