The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks played two preseason games in China, the first NHL games ever played in China, as a first step toward growing the game in the world's most populated country.
The Kings defeated the Canucks 5-2 before 10,088 at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai on 9/21 and 4-3 in a shootout before 12,759 at Wukesong Arena on 9/23 in Beijing.
The teams also held youth clinics in Shanghai, and the NHL held a Fan Fest in Beijing.
China has enormous potential because of its population of 1.3 billion, its growing economy and the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The Chinese government wants 300 million to participate in winter sports leading up to those Olympics, and it asked the NHL to help grow hockey by lending its expertise in building hockey infrastructure and a national team, and by playing games in the country.
It's wonderful that the Kings and Canucks got to see new places like the Bund in Shanghai and Great Wall in Beijing, that they got to try new foods and be together overseas and bond. Those are life experiences they'll never forget.
It's wonderful that expats got to see NHL games and wear jerseys from around the League, that Chinese kids already playing hockey got to meet players, get autographs from them and even skate with them. The NHL needs all its fans, however far flung. It needs to give oxygen to the first flickers of the flame.
It's wonderful that the 10,088 fans who attended the game in Shanghai waved rally towels and "oohed" and "aahed" all the time, that the crowd of 12,759 in Beijing was bigger and more energetic. It gives you a glimpse of what could be.
But the real reason the Kings and Canucks made the trek across the Pacific, the real thing that will move the needle, is reaching new fans -- people with no hockey background who might get hooked on something else in a country where basketball, soccer, badminton and table tennis are popular. That's where the growth is.
"The responsibility once we leave is, how do we get kids on the ice?" Canucks coach Travis Green said. "How do we get kids playing hockey and falling in love with the game the way it is in North America? It's a great game. It's a fast game, competitive. I think it's a great sport to watch, especially live in person.
"Hopefully we can get people to fall in love with it in China, and the next time we come over there's more people playing the game."