Peking puck: What to expect as the NHL returns to Beijing

Watch the Boston Bruins take on the Calgary Flames in a pre-season friendly

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High-octane thrills, twists and turns, enchanting performances and memorable feats of skating: Disney on Ice is a beautiful spectacle to behold, and one that captures the hearts and minds of audiences young and old across the world. But it's nowhere near as unpredictable, nor as exhilarating, as perhaps the greatest show on ice: the National Hockey League (NHL).

Ice hockey has long reigned supreme as Canada's most popular sport – its official national winter sport, no less – and over the decades gained strong followings and participation in the US, Nordic and eastern Europe, and Russia. Here in China, though, its popularity is very much bubbling under, and despite our own city's icy winter, the sport still hasn't quite glided into the hearts of Chinese sports fans.

But the signs are good for a brighter future, and the NHL are certainly upping their efforts to grow its profile in the Middle Kingdom, in partnership with Bloomage, a Chinese corporation focused on promoting and developing sports. Following last year’s first-ever China Games, which saw the Los Angeles Kings defeat the Vancouver Canucks in both Shanghai and Beijing, the league returns this September for another pre-season friendly – this time pitting the historic Boston Bruins against the Calgary Flames, in both Shenzhen and the capital.

Six-time Stanley Cup champions, the Bruins – one of the NHL's Original Six teams, formed back in 1924 – will still be reeling from a semi-final exit in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season. As for the Flames, themselves one-time winners of what is literally sport's biggest trophy, they'll be looking to hit the ice running and recover from having missed out on the Western Conference playoffs.

The Calgary outfit – originally established in Atlanta in 1972, before moving to Alberta in 1980 – will also be looking to restore some pride to Canadian hockey, which has found itself in a bit of a rut in recent times; only two teams north of the border made it into the 16 playoff spots last season, and the Washington Capitals’ victory in the 2018 Stanley Cup finals means it’s now 25 years since a Canadian team last won the competition. (The Montreal Canadiens, the sport’s most successful team with 24 Stanley titles, were the victors in 1993.)

There’ll also be a bit of personal pride to restore for the Flames, who have been beaten in their last three meetings with the Bruins, most recently a 2-1 overtime loss this February. Much of the expectation will be on star player and top-scoring leftwinger Johnny Gaudreau, as well as captain defenseman Mark Giordano, but they’ll be up against some of the most highly-rated players in the league in Bruins wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

For NHL fans, it’s obviously going to be a great chance to see top-class teams play in Beijing, as our city’s own Kunlun Red Star have had a mixed time since entering the pan-Eurasian Kontinental Hockey League two years ago. For the ice hockey uninitiated, this is an opportunity to get to know Canada’s high-octane gift to the world before the Winter Olympics hit Beijing in 2022. See you on the ice, buddy.
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