Capital taking a shot at NHL hockey

Updated: 2016-03-08 08:16

By Tang Yue(China Daily)

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North Americans living in Beijing might soon be able to cheer for their hometown ice hockey teams without leaving the capital, thanks to a "tentative agreement" between Beijing sports authority and the National Hockey League.

Under the proposed deal, the authority will host some regular-season games in the coming years, Sun Xuecai, the municipality's sports chief, said on Monday.

Sun said representatives of the NHL visited Beijing last week and both sides showed great interest in staging games from the world's most prestigious ice hockey league in the Chinese capital, which will co-host the 2022 Winter Olympics with Zhangjiakou.

"We aim to bring some regular-season games here. They are more competitive and popular than exhibition games," said Sun, head of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports.

He said many details are yet to be worked out and there is currently no timeline for when the puck might drop.

"We also plan to stage more commercial and exhibition games," he added.

In June, Beijing-born ice hockey player Song Andong was picked by the New York Islanders and became the first Chinese person to be drafted into the NHL.

The NHL started staging overseas exhibition games in Europe in 1938, and there were road trips to the former Soviet Union in 1989 and 1990.

In 1997, a pair of regular-season games were played outside North America for the first time, in Nagano, Japan, a year ahead of that city hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Capital taking a shot at NHL hockey

The NHL has staged several regular-season games in Europe since then.

Sun said he believes the move to stage games in China will accelerate the sport's popularity in a fast-growing market.

Beijing is now home to 15 ice hockey clubs. A record 116 club teams with more than 1,700 children registered for the 2015-16 season competed in five groups under age 14.

In its inaugural 2008 season, the Beijing league had just four teams and 20 players.

"It is the fastest growing winter sport in Beijing and is very popular among teenagers," Sun said.

Sun made the remarks at a news conference on the municipality's plan to accelerate the development of winter sports from 2016 to 2022. It is the first such plan in China to be made by a local government.

Under the plan, by 2022 Beijing will build another 16 indoor and 50 outdoor skating rinks and 30 small ski areas. It will also improve its existing 22 ski resorts.

The capital has set a goal of 40-billion-yuan ($6.13 billion) of revenue for the winter sports industry in 2022, with 8 billion yuan in added value. The revenue in 2013 was 5 billion yuan, Sun said.