The NHL North American ice hockey league has confirmed plans to stage two annual pre-season games in China from later this year.
The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will face-off on September 21 in Shanghai and then again in Beijing two days later. The initiative is an attempt by the NHL to break into the market ahead of Beijing hosting the 2022 winter Olympic Games.
"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 recognise the importance of helping China build a strong national hockey programme and are committed to supporting that priority in every way possible."
The Canucks, Kings, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals have already held training camps for young Chinese players.
The move, however, comes at a time when NHL participation at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang is under doubt.
According to the Reuters news agency, the International Ice Hockey Federation has agreed to cover the cost of travel and insurance for NHL players. "The expenses that they say are being paid are consistent with the prior Olympics – that is not the issue we are dealing with," Bettman said. "We are focused on the disruption of the season.
"We first have to deal with South Korea before we can focus on Beijing. But the point is, whether or not the players play for two weeks in either South Korea or Beijing does not change our commitment for the long term to grow hockey in China."