The NHL will return to China in September with a pair of preseason friendlies as part of the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games, the league announced.
The Calgary Flames will host the Boston Bruins on Saturday, September 15, at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center in Shenzhen, and the Bruins will host the Flames four days later at Cadillac Arena in Beijing.
The games, presented by O.R.G. Packaging, will be the third and fourth NHL preseason games played in China following September 2017’s NHL China Games between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks in Shanghai and Beijing.
Bruins president Cam Neely told NHL.com the games will help grow the sport not only in China but also at home.
“For us it’s really about starting grassroots programs in China but also in Chinatown,” he said.
The Bruins sent players and alumni on goodwill trips to China the past two summers. Forward David Pastrnak, former forward Matt Beleskey, and Bruins alumni Andrew Raycroft and Bob Sweeney hosted hockey clinics in Beijing and Shanghai in July 2016. A year later, goalie Tuukka Rask, defenseman Torey Krug, former defenseman Hal Gill, and members of the organization’s corporate sponsorship and youth hockey development teams visited China.
The Flames visited China in 2013, with several alumni serving as hockey ambassadors and conducting youth clinics in Hong Kong.
Various other NHL organizations, including the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Washington Capitals, have conducted hockey camps for Chinese youth in China and North America.
China is committed to increasing participation in winter sports, with the 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing. With a population of 1.3 billion, the nation is aiming to increase participation in all winter sports to 300 million by 2022.
Hockey in China used to be popular only in northern cities including Harbin and Qiqihar, and in the early 2000s there were less than 200 registered junior hockey players in Beijing. Since the announcement of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, that number has increased exponentially.
“There are now a few thousand youngsters playing ice hockey in Beijing,” Thomas Wu, vice president of the International Ice Hockey Federation told the South China Morning Post. “People think playing ice hockey is hip and cool, and there are an increasing number of people taking up the sport.”