NHL has lots of work to do before gaining foothold in China – Tim Wharnsby on hockey – NHL on CBC Sports

Tim Pearson made the journey to Shanghai and Beijing last week. As part of his executive role with Bauer, he has been charged with exploring China as a market for the giant hockey equipment company.

The fact that his son Tanner Pearson, a left wing fresh off a 24-goal season with the Los Angeles Kings, just happened to be part of the two-game exhibition series between the Kings and the Vancouver Canucks was an added bonus.

What father and son as well as the Kings and Canucks discovered is there still are miles to skate before hockey makes a dint on the sporting scene in China.

“The hockey opportunity is real, but all these initiatives with rinks to be built and youth hockey programs to be developed, has to happen to maximize growth opportunities,” the older Pearson said.

Only 10,088 showed up to watch the Kings’ 5-2 victory in Shanghai last Thursday, and 12,759 were in attendance to see Los Angeles beat Vancouver 4-3 in a shootout in Beijing last Saturday.

Kings edge Canucks in shootout, sweep pre-season series in China0:26

It will be interesting to see where China travels in terms of its hockey chops when the 2022 Olympic Games is held in Beijing. It also will be interesting to see if the International Olympic Committee follows through on its threat not to allow the NHL to participate in the 2022 Winter Games after the NHL decided not to permit its players from competing in the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea this coming February.

Asia is a market the NHL has toyed with before. The Canucks and Anaheim Ducks opened the 1997-98 season with a two-game set in Japan and the game’s best returned a few months later for the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano.

But the league did little after this first step. Meanwhile, 7-foot-6 Yao Ming began his Hall-of-Fame NBA career in 2003 and basketball swiftly became a popular sport in China.

When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman traveled to Beijing last spring to announce the Kings-Canucks exhibition game series, one of the first advertisements he saw when he stepped off the plane was a billboard of NBA superstar Steph Curry, hawking for Samsung.

There are two main players on the fledgling hockey scene in China. First, there is HC Kunlun Red Star, a Russian Kontinental Hockey League club coached by Mike Keenan that is in its second season. Kunlun has several Canadians on its roster, including Gilbert Brule, Kyle Chipchura, Brandon Yip and Geoff Kinrade,…

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