The National Hockey League (NHL) will have two preseason games to be held in China for the first time in September 2017, with the Los -Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks facing off in the 2017-18 season warm-ups.
The preseason games between the Kings and Canucks will be played on September 21 at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai before switching to Le-Sports Center in Beijing two days later.
After Beijing won the 2022 Winter Olympic Games bid, the country is trying to develop its winter sports popularity. With a population of more than 1.3 billion, China expects to expand its participation in all winter sports to 300 million people by 2022.
“We recognize the importance of helping China build a strong national hockey program and are committed to supporting that priority in every way possible,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
NHL is the latest professional organization to test the waters in China to take advantage of a growing interest in competitive sport.
No Chinese national has ever played in the NHL, though Song Andong was drafted in 2015 by the New York -Islanders.
In contrast to the NHL, the Kontinental Hockey League established a team in China last year, with the Beijing Kunlun Red Stars stepping into the playoffs in its debut season in the KHL.
“We are not concerned,” Bettman told reporters of KHL's strategy in -China. “In China, like elsewhere, there are a lot of people who are helping grow the game; it's good for everybody.”
He also noted it is possible to see more NHL preseason and regular--season games to be held in China in the future.
The NHL, which celebrates its centennial anniversary in 2017, is yet to announce its 2017-18 regular season due to the ongoing negotiation over whether NHL players are able to go to the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea's Pyeongchang in February 2018, which means NHL's season will be interrupted by more than two weeks.
“We are focusing on the disruption of the season,” said Bettman of the negotiation with the International Olympic Committee. “Whether or not we are going to the Olympics, it doesn't change the commitment to help ice hockey grow in China for the long term.”
The International Ice Hockey Federation has agreed to pay NHL players' travel and insurance costs to try to lure them to the 2018 Winter Games.