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The Daily News of Los Angeles
When the Kings and Vancouver Canucks hit the ice for two exhibition games in China in September, it will mark the NHL's first determined strides into the world's most populous country. The league, its players' union and Chinese sports officials made it official today in Beijing.
The Kings and Canucks will face off Sept. 21 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai and then again Sept. 23 at LeSports Center in Beijing, a pair of exhibitions dubbed the 2017 NHL China Games. The games will be the start of a long-term plan to plant the seeds of hockey in China.
The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing.
"We look forward to our first games in China and to a variety of initiatives that will inspire generations of Chinese players and fans to enjoy our sport," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We recognize the importance of helping China build a strong national hockey program and are committed to supporting that priority in every way possible."
Mathieu Schneider of the NHL Players Association, Kings business operations president Luc Robitaille, Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden and a number of Chinese officials also were on hand for an on-ice news conference at LeSports Center.
Robitaille, a Hall of Fame player with the Kings, said in a statement it was "a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China." He also said, "Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in."
The Kings and Canucks, along with several other NHL teams, have held youth hockey camps in China in recent years. However, it will the Kings' first trip to Asia to play in a game, and the second for the Canucks.
The NHL has coveted China, and its 1.3 billion citizens, for years. But until now the league hasn't embraced it in the manner of the NBA. China's Yao Ming become a household name while with the Houston Rockets, before the NBA players participated in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
The Kings opened the 2007-08 regular season with two games against the Ducks at the O2 Arena in London. In addition, they began the 2011-12 regular season by playing the New York Rangers in Stockholm and then the Buffalo Sabres in Berlin.
The Ducks and Canucks played the NHL's first regular-season games outside of North America when they met for two games in Tokyo to start the 1997-98 season. The games served as a prelude to the NHL's entry into the Winter Olympics, which were held in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
It remains to be seen if the NHL will send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Bettman told a Canadian radio reporter last week to "assume we're not going." A definitive decision is expected as soon as Saturday.
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