The NHL is going back to China, and the Calgary Flames will be a part of it.
The Flames will play two preseason games against the Boston Bruins this September in Shenzhen and Beijing, as the league continues its attempt to grow the sport overseas.
The first game will be played on September 15 at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center, with the teams playing four days later at Cadillac Arena in Beijing.
The Flames and Bruins are following in the footsteps of the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, who played a pair of exhibition games in Shanghai and Beijing last year.
China expects to expand its participation in all winter sports to 300 million people by 2022, when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics. The NHL would love nothing more than for China – and its population of 1.3 billion – to spend a big portion of those dollars on the sport of ice hockey.
“I think this is going to be a great experience for our guys,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving. “This is a great opportunity for us to experience a different culture while showcasing our league and our product.”
It remains to be seen how the Flames will approach the long preseason road trip, as it certainly comes with challenges. Last year, the Canucks and Kings sent a split-squad filled with mostly veteran players overseas, with many of their young players continuing to play games in North America.
“Any time you can get together on a trip like this it goes a long way in building chemistry as a team,” said Flames centre Sean Monahan. “I don’t think people realize how big of a deal this is [for us]. You want to be able to experience as much of the world as you can. To able to do it with your teammates, your friends, it will be special.”
The Canucks tried to mitigate the effect traveling such a long distance had on their players by sending them on the Crystal Skye – aka the most luxurious plane in the world. The Kings opted for a more modest flight.