May 2, 2018 / 8:03 PM / a year ago

NHL to return to China with two exhibition games

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during an event in Beijing, China, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

(Reuters) - The National Hockey League will stage two pre-season games in China as part of the league’s ongoing effort to promote the sport in the fast-growing market, it said on Wednesday.

The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames will meet in Shenzhen on Sept. 15 and Beijing on Sept. 19 for the first NHL games in China since the league dropped the puck there last year with games in Shanghai and Beijing.

The NHL is the latest major sports league hoping to tap into China and its 1.3 billion-person market, following European soccer teams and the National Basketball Association, which is highly popular in the country.

“China is committed to hockey and expects to expand its participation in all winter sports to 300 million people by 2022,” the league said in a news release.

“The NHL continues to collaborate with sports bureaus across China in developing grassroots hockey programs and supporting local youth hockey and hockey development at all levels.”

Chinese company O.R.G. Packaging will return as the event sponsor while Chinese investment company Bloomage International Investment Group, which owns the Cadillac Arena in Beijing where one of the games will be played, will promote the events.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last year that the league would be in China on a regular basis ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The NHL would not release its players to participate in the Winter Games in Pyeongchang in February after the league and the International Olympic Committee failed to reach an agreement on players’ travel and insurance costs.

Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, editing by Ed Osmond

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