A GOLDEN dragon was held aloft on poles by skaters. Kobe Bryant appeared on video. NHL mascots gave the crowd a primer on what this odd game is all about.
NHL pre-season hockey made its debut in China on Thursday — a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks — in a step by the league to crack an immense market.
The fans in Shanghai got a fast and physical display — 17 power plays and 57 shots on goal, all met with loud cheers. Each hard check drew a collective “oooh” or “aaah.”
“Obviously, you wanted to put on a show for the fans here and they got to see some goals, too,” said Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi, who scored the Canucks’s first goal.
An announcer came onto the ice to explain the finer points of the game as Fin (Vancouver’s killer whale) and Bailey (Los Angeles’s lion) acted out infractions such as charging, crosschecking, tripping and hooking.
With Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the NHL is showcasing two pre-season games in a country unfamiliar with hockey. The Kings and Canucks play their second game in Beijing today.
“The effort here really is to build from the grassroots up, to try to grow the appreciation for the sport, the understanding of the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the game.
“We’ve certainly made the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the Chinese government aware that we’re willing to help any way we can as they gear up and prepare for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.”