China to stage first NHL preseason games

The Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks will square off on September 21 in Shanghai and on September 23 in Beijing, first-ever NHL preseason games in China

The NHL will play its first-ever preseason games in China this autumn, its commissioner announced Thursday, as Beijing pushes winter sports ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks will square off on September 21 in Shanghai and on September 23 in Beijing, where the deal between the NHL and Chinese biotechnology group Bloomage International was announced.

Many Chinese firms have invested in China's sports industry in recent years, often in an attempt to curry favour with the government, which has made promoting the country's sporting prowess a national objective.

"We look forward to our first games in China and to a variety of initiatives that will inspire generations of Chinese players and fans," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

"We recognise the importance of helping China build a strong national hockey programme," he said.

The two teams were ideal because Los Angeles and Vancouver both have high populations of people of Chinese origin, former NHL star Mathieu Schneider told reporters.

NHL is the latest professional organisation to test the waters in China to take advantage of a growing interest in competitive sport.

No Chinese national has ever played in the National Hockey League, and the game has a limited following. However, China has poured money into winter sports facilities ahead of the Olympics.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has said he hopes 300 million Chinese people will participate in winter sports by 2022.