LA Kings win 1st NHL preseason game in China
LA Kings win 1st NHL preseason game in China
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.”
Others can moan but forward-thinking Wolves have used Jorge Mendes to great effect
- English club have traded cleverly to reach the Premier League
- Star player Ruben Neves earns considerably less than John Terry
On July 8, Wolverhampton Wanderers signed Ruben Neves from FC Porto for a club record transfer fee of €16 million ($19.5 million). On July 17, Middlesbrough signed Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest for a club record transfer fee reported as “more than £15 million ($21 million)."
Forty-four Championship matches later Wolves have won the division and promotion to the Premier League with their 21-year-old Portugal midfielder contributing six goals and being elected into the Professional Footballers' Association team of the year. Middlesbrough are scrambling for a playoff place with their 25-year-old DR Congo centre forward contributing 14 goals. Assombalonga just scrapes into the Championship's top ten scorers. He did not make his fellow pros' divisional best XI.
Neves is admired by Manchester United. He is envied by much of the rest of the Championship. Under-pressure owners such as Leeds United's Andrea Radrizzani have publicly complained that Wolves are owned by a company that is also a minority shareholder in the football agency that represents Neves, Gestifute.
Leeds have joined other Championship clubs in requesting that the English Football League investigates whether Fosun's relationship with Gestifute breaks the competition's rules. One of their arguments is that Gestifute principal Jorge Mendes' influence on Wolves' promotion campaign represents unfair competition.
“No club may enter into an agreement which enables any party, other than the club itself, to influence materially the club’s policies or the performance of its teams or players in matches and/or competitions,” read a draft letter to the EFL published last month by an English newspaper. “Given the broad interpretation of ‘agreement’ in the FA’s regulations, which can be any ‘agreement, arrangement, obligation, undertaking or understanding whether oral or written, formal or informal or otherwise’, I would invite the FA and EFL to consider whether Mr Mendes does indeed materially influence Wolves’s policies or the performance of its teams or players in matches and/or competition.”
Mendes advised Fosun on their July 2016 takeover of Wolves. The agent advised on the appointment of coaches, initially moving to secure Julen Lopetegui before the Spaniard was offered his national team's top job, and last summer securing Nuno Espirito Santo. And Mendes has worked on some (by no means all) of the transfers with which Wolves built a promotion-winning squad.
All of this is by no means unusual in the world of football. Mendes is recognised as one of the most successful individuals in his profession. His clients including Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, winners of FIFA's world player and coach of the year awards.
The Portuguese agent works with multiple clubs, and has a history of advising owners on the recruitment of multiple key individuals. He helped Chelsea secure more than one Premier League title by bringing Mourinho to the club and following it up with the transfers of players such as Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Deco, Jose Bosingwa and Diego Costa. His work with Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Monaco led to domestic and European success.
For Mendes, the Wolverhampton project falls into a similar category. The idea is to place a coach and footballers in an environment where they can demonstrate their talent and develop their careers. Having owners that buy into this plan allows someone like Neves, who played just 626 minutes of league football in his final season at Porto and was rejected as a transfer option by a number of Premier League and Championship clubs, the platform to rapidly develop into one of the division's most decisive performers.
The approach is logical, intelligent and long-term. It has benefited both the clubs who sign Gestifute players and the players who ask Gestifute to represent them. And at Wolves it has allowed the club to build a team capable of holding Manchester City to a goalless draw on the Premier League champions' own ground then reaching the top tier itself on a controlled budget.
Neves was paid a net wage of €12,500 a month by Porto. At Wolves his remuneration has been greatly improved yet still falls below the club's top wage of £25,000 a week. According to a study by the Sporting Intelligence website, the average Championship first-team salary stands at an annual £631,000. Top earners like Aston Villa's John Terry are said to be on more than three times Wolves ceiling wage.
One club has got its recruitment right and will start next season in football's most affluent league. Others clubs have not recruited as efficiently and are left complaining about an “unfair playing field."
You'd be forgiven for wondering if their energies (and transfer budgets) would be better spent elsewhere.