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NHL schedules latest China games

North America’s NHL ice hockey league has announced that it will return to China this year for a second pair of pre-season games.

The Boston Bruins will face off against the Calgary Flames on September 15 at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center, before the two teams meet again on September 19 at Beijing’s Cadillac Arena.

The announcement comes after the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks faced off in Shanghai and Beijing ahead of the 2017-18 season last September. China is viewed as a key target market for ice hockey with Beijing due to host the winter Olympic Games in 2022.

The Bruins have previously held youth hockey camps in Shanghai and Beijing, while the Flames have conducted youth hockey clinics in Hong Kong. Other clubs such as the Canucks, Kings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals have recently taken part in similar initiatives in China.

The NHL has confirmed that O.R.G. Packaging will return as title sponsor of this year’s China games, with the company having also supported last year’s fixtures. Tsingtao will return as the official beer of the games.

NHL players did not compete at this year’s winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, after the league said in April 2017 that no dialogue had taken place to convince it of the benefits of disrupting its season. The decision ended a run of five consecutive winter Games with NHL players and it remains to be seen whether the league's stars will travel to Beijing in four years' time.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press news agency: “I think there is an enthusiasm to grow the sport, first at the grassroots level, but I think bringing games there and bringing NHL teams there and NHL players helps kind of support the story from the top down, as well.

“It’s really a two-pronged approach where you’re trying to build hockey infrastructure in a society that’s never really had any and then in order to drive that, you’re bringing hockey at its highest level so that people can appreciate what the sport can look like.”

Daly added that the league sees hockey in China and the NHL at Beijing 2022 as mutually exclusive. “Our philosophy is one that isn’t necessarily connected to the other,” Daly said.

“I don’t think the fact that we want to grow our presence in China and grow hockey’s presence in China necessarily means we have to be in the Olympics. But it doesn’t necessarily preclude us from being there if ultimately we want to be.”