LA Kings win 1st NHL preseason game in China

Kyle Clifford of the Los Angeles Kings, left, watches his teammate Nick Shore, right, battle for the puck with Alexander Burmistrov of the Vancouver Canucks, center, during the NHL China preseason hockey game in Shanghai on Thursday. (AP)
Updated 22 September 2017
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LA Kings win 1st NHL preseason game in China

SHANGHAI: Building on the support for winter sports in China since Beijing won the 2022 Olympics, the NHL is showcasing two preseason games in an attempt to break into a market and country unfamiliar with hockey.
Playing the first NHL game in China, the crowd in Shanghai couldn’t have been treated to a more fast-paced, physical show than the Los Angeles Kings’ 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. The game was filled with a combined 17 power-play opportunities and 57 shots on goal.
The players were uncertain of the reception, but the crowd proved immediately receptive to the action on the ice.
“Obviously you wanted to put on a show for the fans here and they got to see some goals, too,” said Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi, who scored the Canucks’ first goal.
The NHL offered a primer that featured team mascots before the game. An announcer came onto the ice to explain the finer points of the game as Fin (Vancouver’s killer whale) and Bailey (Los Angeles’ lion) mimicked infractions such as charging, crosschecking, tripping and hooking.
A golden Chinese dragon came out next, held aloft on poles by seven skaters. A group of Chinese kids in hockey uniforms joined the NHL players during the Chinese national anthem.
Even if hockey is relatively unknown in China and the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions of the sport.
Every shot on goal was met with a loud cheer and each hard check against the walls was met with a collective ‘Oooh’ or ‘Aaah.’
“To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know the crowd, the noise, the atmosphere,” said Los Angeles coach John Stevens. “I think the whole thing for me is we’re here to grow the game. It’s my hope that the more they see it, the more people like it.”
Tanner Pearson scored twice for the Kings and Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter each had a goal and an assist. Jonathan Quick made 31 saves.
Team allegiances were generally lacking during the game, with the exception of the Canadian flags and rowdy Canadian fans in the audience.
Spectator Inge Zhang, who was wearing a Miami Heat jersey with pink letters, admitted being more a fan of basketball than hockey. A media cooperation manager for the Shanghai Sharks basketball team, she was excited because she’d heard Kobe Bryant might make an appearance.
“So we came here actually for Kobe Bryant,” she said while her friend laughed. “But I love this sport, too.”
Bryant did make a brief appearance in a video message to support his hometown team, the Kings.
“I see more foreigners here tonight than Chinese, but I think there are still a lot of hockey fans in China,” Zhang added. “I think the NHL should take this opportunity to grow the sport here.”
That’s the plan now that the NHL has signed a contract to bring two preseason games to China for six of the next eight years. The Kings and Canucks play their second game in Beijing on Saturday.
“The effort here really is to build from the grassroots up, to try to grow the appreciation for the sport, the understanding of the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the game. “We’ve certainly made the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the Chinese government aware that we’re willing to help any way we can as they gear up and prepare for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.”


Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games opening clash against Iran

Updated 14 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games opening clash against Iran

  • Young Falcons hopeful of a semifinal spot.
  • Under-23 players keen on making a name for themselves in Indonesia.

JAKARTA: There is a widely held belief that to succeed in sport, you must start early.
Officials from the Saudi Arabia National Olympic Committee will be hoping it rings true this month as the Kingdom’s Under-23 football team prepares to prematurely kick-off its Asian Games campaign this afternoon in Jakarta, three days before the continent’s largest multi-sport competition officially begins.
Similar to the Olympics, the football tournament starts before the opening ceremony and finishes on the competition’s final day, Sept. 2. The fledgling Young Falcons face Iran today at the 28,000-capacity Wibawa Mukti Stadium in the Indonesian capital.
The Saudi NOC have brought a delegation of 169 athletes, including eight females, and will compete across 22 disciplines, including athletics, shooting, taekwondo and volleyball. The three-week Asian Games operate both as a continental precursor and, at times, a qualifying tournament for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Young Falcons made their football debut at the Asian Games in South Korea four years ago, reaching the quarterfinals in Incheon, before losing to Iraq. Their regional neighbors were inspired by legendary striker Younes Mahmoud, who had been included as one of Iraq’s three over-age players and scored twice in a 3-0 win.
Yet the impact of Mahmoud in Korea has not influenced the team’s selection. With the Saudi Pro League starting next week, coach Saad Al-Shehri has opted to forego athletes older than 23, instead selecting a squad consisting primarily of Al-Ahli development players and a smattering of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ettifaq-based youths.
“We haven’t brought any overage players because we are playing here as preparation for the U23 Asian Cup, which will offer qualification for Tokyo 2020,” said Faisal Almarashdi, a spokesman for the team.
“We have brought to Indonesia only players who are 21 or under as they will all be eligible for Tokyo. Many have already played at the Under-20 World Cup under coach Saad, so there was never any discussion to use the three allocated over-age slots.”
Abdullah Otayf is the model example of how Asian Games experience can help a young career. Four years ago, the deep-lying midfielder was part of the squad that traveled to Korea. This summer he was an integral part of the Green Falcons side that played at the World Cup in Russia. 
With national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi following the competition from afar, there will be chances to catch the eye for the likes of striker Haroune Camara and midfielders Abdullah Yahya Magrshi and Ali Hassan Al-Asmari ahead of January’s Asian Cup. Both midfielders have already made their full debuts for Ahli and featured in the Jeddah club’s Champions League campaign last season, while Al-Qadisiyah’s Camara was included in Pizzi’s provisional World Cup squad before being cut from the final 23.
“These Asian Games are very important for the young players involved,” Almarashdi added.
“They are the future of the senior team so if they play well here and at the U23 Asian Cup then, we hope, they will go to Tokyo 2020. From then on the pathway to the senior team is already very clear.”  
Much like the seniors, the U23 side is both short and slight, with only two of the 10 midfielders and forwards standing above 5 foot 8 (172m). Today’s opponents Iran are not only taller and more physical, they also have, in Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjčar, a manager who knows West Asian football after short spells in Qatar and the UAE. In their most recent preparation match, Iran lost 3-2 to China. 
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, beat the UAE last week in Malaysia following a pair of friendlies against local sides. Today’s match will kick-off at 4 p.m. local time, midday in Saudi Arabia.