Wayne Gretzky is helping to promote the growth of hockey in China ahead of the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games, when the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins will play preseason games Sept. 15 (Shenzhen) and 19 (Beijing).
Gretzky was named a global ambassador for Kunlun Red Star, China's team in the Kontinental Hockey League. He'll help with a youth development and training program for players ages 8-17 in Beijing and Shenzhen, with the goal of expanding to at least 20 locations in China.
"The Chinese people have really rallied around hockey," Gretzky said Wednesday at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton. "Somebody told me that last year, Game 6 (of the Stanley Cup Final) between [the] Pittsburgh [Penguins] and Nashville [Predators] had 36 million people in China that watched ... so it shows you the size of the market in China is pretty amazing."
Video: NHL continuing to grow the game overseas
Gretzky, the NHL all-time leader in goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857), will visit Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai from Sept. 12-18.
"To now have him part of the growth of hockey in China in the buildup to the 2022 [Beijing] Olympics will promote interest and participation in the sport, especially among young people," Ao Meng, Kunlun's executive director, told China Daily.
It's the second straight year the NHL will visit China. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks played two preseason games last September, one in Shanghai and the other in Beijing.
"Good on the NHL for realizing [the game is increasingly popular in China] and they've stepped in," Gretzky said. "They were over there last year and they're really trying to put a bit of an imprint of our game and our sport in China, and it just helps make our game bigger."