The sheer scope is something that requires a moment to wrap your head around.
“It’s funny,” muses Flames’ GM Brad Treliving, “but when we started seriously talking about this possibility with the league, they mentioned we’d be playing one game in Shenzhen.
“I’m like … ‘Shenzhen. Shenzhen? Where’s Shenzhen? What’s in Shenzhen? Why are we going to Shenzhen?’
“Well, because 12 million people live in Shenzhen. And you’re going: ‘Holy smokes’
“So that’s actually like asking: ‘Why are we going to New York?'”
Twenty years after opening their 1998-99 regular-season with two games in Toyko, Japan, the Flames are returning to Asia as part of the O.R.G. NHL China Games for a pair of exhibition tilts against the Boston Bruins.
With a population exceeding 1.3 billion, a commitment has been made throughout China to growing the sport with an eye to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
The Calgary-Boston twin-bill follows on the heels of last fall’s successful visit by the L.A. Kings and Vancouver Canucks.
“For players, this is really exciting,” says Flames’ centre Sean Monahan. “To be able to showcase our game, our league and our team in China is going to be amazing. You want to give them a good show.
“I’m sure Johnny (Gaudreau) will make some new fans while we’re there.
“We’re lucky. I’m 23 and you want to experience as much of the world as you can. I’m just doing a little homework on China right now.”
“To able to do it with your teammates, your friends, will be special.”
The opening pre-season game is set for Sept. 15 at Universiade Center in the aforementioned Shenzhen, a quick trek from Hong Kong. The second goes four days later at Cadillac Arena in the capital, Beijing.
The time is 9:30 p.m. in Riga, Lativa, where the Bill Peters-piloted Team Canada has just polished off the host country 6-1 in a pre-World Championship warm-up.
“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity,” says the recently-installed head knock of the Flames, who arrived armed with substantial international coaching experience. “It allows us to open our camp a little early, get over to China and spend some quality time together. We’re going to play the two exhibition games, promote the NHL and the Calgary Flames brand.
“We’ll get all the work in, for sure. That has to be taken care before the cultural end of it but for those who’ve been around the NHL for awhile it’ll be a nice, refreshing change of pace.”
The plan is to run two training camps simultaneously over the course of the trip, the larger group staying put here at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Games will still be played here while the travelling party is a 14-hour time difference away in China.
“With a new coaching staff coming on, I think there’ll be benefits in this, too,” says Treliving. “The implementation of what Bill wants to do with a smaller group of guys, and them being together for a week, eight days or however long we’re going for, can only help speed up the familiarization process.
“It helps kick off the bonding with the core of the group earlier than you would in a normal training camp.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces in a trip like this. The jet-lag going/coming piece. The nutrition piece. The on-ice-piece. And the selling-of-the-game piece, too, right? Our top players are going to be used – no different than Boston’s – to showcase our league. That’s part of our responsibility and we take it seriously.”
There’ll be time for sightseeing, to the Great Wall, Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, traditional Chinese gardens, temples, pagodas and the abundance of the country’s unique flavour and history.
That balancing of tradesman and tourist is apt to be the tricky part in the GM’s estimation.
“It’ll be a great life experience for our guys,” acknowledges Treliving. “I enjoy traveling and exploring other cultures. And talking to a couple of our players today, Travis (Hamonic) and Sean, they made the point (that) the good thing is that it’s happening early enough in camp to give us lots of time after getting back to recover for the start of the season.
“We’re back on the 19th. That’s big, for me. It gives us about two weeks from our return before the season starts. I travel in Europe quite a bit and I know going into some place is one thing, coming back is quite another. Coming back is always tougher.
“We haven’t seen the regular-schedule yet but to have two weeks to get ready is key.”
“Hey, I’ll love seeing the Great Wall, too. But training camps are only so long. When you’re incorporating a new coach, new people, it’s vital you get the work in.