NHL games leave Chinese fans lukewarm

Updated 2017-09-25 18:01:03 Global Times

Ice hockey still has a long way to go in 2022 Winter Games host country

The 2017 National Hockey League (NHL) China Games culminated Saturday in a second consecutive defeat for the Vancouver Canucks at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 watched by 12,579 fans at the Cadillac Arena in Wukesong, Beijing.

The attendance showed that the capital Beijing - host city of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games - has a bigger fan base than Shanghai where about 10,000 attended Thursday's 5-2 contest at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.

Both arenas boast a capacity of about 18,000, prompting questions about how successfully China is cultivating hockey culture in the world's most populous country.

The NHL did a great job promoting the sport in China. The game on Saturday had about everything a top-tier hockey match should have: fouls, fights, power plays, overtime and shootouts.

Most of the enthusiastic novice audience should have been able to absorb every detail of the game. But alas, some fans arrived at the stadium from the summer weather outside sporting T-shirts and shorts, meaning many had to leave at the end of the first period.

Although the government has vowed 300 million people will participate in winter sports by 2022 when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympic Games, China has yet to establish a proper ice hockey league.

Officially speaking, China has one ice hockey team - Kunlun Red Star, of Beijing - that plays in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, but most of the players are foreigners, not Chinese.

Plus for stadium-related reasons, the Beijing hockey team had to play all its home games in Shanghai this season. Playing at the home of a traditional -bitter rival hardly helps with building a fan base.

The NHL has pinned its hopes on Song Andong to become the "Yao Ming" of Chinese hockey. When the New York Islanders hired him in 2015, Song became the first China-born athlete to be drafted by an NHL team.

The comparison stops there. When Yao moved to the NBA in 2002, he was a Chinese national team player who could start from the bench for the Houston Rockets. Song, 20, is still far from making an appearance in the NHL.

Many Chinese parents worry about the violence and the expense of their children picking up a stick.

Preseason NHL games are a small, if useful, start. But if the sport is ever to take off in China, more long-term strategic thinking will be needed.

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