• Andong Song is the first Chinese ice hockey player to be drafted by the NHL.

Andong Song is the first Chinese ice hockey player to be drafted by the NHL. (Photo : Twitter)

Chinese billionaire Zhou Yunjie is confident that the National Hockey League would be as big in China as other sporting competitions.

Hockey fan

Zhou, who owns the metal can manufacturing company ORG Packing, made the remark after the announcement that the league would hold its first ever preseason game in China, The Globe and Mail reported.

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The businessman, who was one of the major pushers for the deal, admits that much of the things that China has learned about ice hockey comes from the NHL. He adds that the decision to finally bring the league over into the country would help further the sport.

Zhou is himself a big hockey fan, having played the sport since he was 11 years old during the 1970s. He also fondly recalls his square off in the rink against singer Justin Bieber during the NHL All-Star Celebrity Shootout in January.

However, he admits that there is still more work to be done to attract new players to the sport. Zhou noted that there has been a considerable drop in the number of players in China in the last few decades, with registered ones now numbering just a few thousand.

The ORG head expressed confidence that, with the new push by NHL, they will be able to attract at least five million new players in the next few years.

Historic game

The NHL announced on Thursday that the anticipated preseason games will be played between the Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks, ABC News reported.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the first game will be played on Sept. 21 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, while the second is on Sept. 23 at the Le Sports Center.

Bettman said that the two games serve to make their formal entry into the Chinese hockey scene. He adds that all the concerned parties are looking forward to contributing to the further development of the sport in the country.

Both the Kings and the Canucks have previously held youth hockey camps in the country as part of promotions. Meanwhile, Andong Song became the first Chinese-born player to be drafted in the NHL, joining the New York Islanders in 2015.