(Reuters) - The New Jersey Devils are eager to help expand the National Hockey League’s international profile and hope their upcoming European road trip not only bolsters their fanbase but provides the foundation for a successful season.
The Devils, whose talented European contingent includes Swiss standout Nico Hischier and Swedish sophomore Jesper Bratt, will cap their preseason at Switzerland’s SC Bern on Monday before launching their 2018-19 campaign in Sweden on Oct. 6.
“Some teams don’t necessarily want to deal with whatever logistics issues they would have to deal with,” Devils President Hugh Weber, speaking to Reuters in a telephone interview, said about overseas games.
“We happen to be one that we’ve been in front of the league the last five years saying ‘hey, use us any way you can’.
“This is a pretty amazing opportunity for us and also for our players to get out and engage with these fans that will be watching a lot of the Devils family over the season.”
So keen are the Devils to tap into the European market that they have scheduled a franchise-record 12 afternoon home games this season, all of which Weber said will be broadcast live at primetime in Europe.
For the Devils, the timing could not be better given the makeup of its team, which last season made the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 and boasts reigning NHL Most Valuable Player Taylor Hall.
Hischier, 19, is the future of the Devils franchise and boasts the distinction of being the first Swiss player to be drafted first overall while Bratt, one of a handful of Swedes on the team, is coming off a promising rookie campaign.
Perhaps in similar fashion to the bonding trip the team took to West Point, New York ahead of last season, the Devils are counting on Europe to provide a similar chance for players to build personal relationships and chemistry.
“It’s a great bonding experience for the team to be able to be together and going through this shared experience for almost two weeks,” said Weber.
“So we are actually very excited about the opportunity to get the long 82-game season kind of launched with this condensed time of us being together.
“It helps kind of solidify and galvanize that locker room, so this is going to be a great launch for them.”
At the very least, the games will allow the team’s European players a rare chance to compete on home soil in an NHL jersey and in front of family and friends.
Hischier, who has become a role model in Switzerland for NHL hopefuls, will have the opportunity to lead the Devils in a game about a 90-minute train ride from Naters, where he was born and raised.
“It’s a special game for me,” Hischier said on the NHL website. “My grandparents are going to be there and all my aunts and uncles ... pretty much my whole family and all my friends. There are lots of people in the stands who I’ll know. I even know a lot of the players we’ll play against for Bern, so it’s a really special game.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis