TAMPA, Fla. - The Islanders are scheduled to train in China for 10 days in September, fulfilling owner Charles Wang's longtime wish to take the team to his native country.
The Islanders will spend Sept. 14-23 of their 2010 training camp in China, making stops in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as day trips to the cities of Harbin and Qiqihar in the Heilongjiang province. The Islanders and the Chinese national hockey team will both be split in half, then combined to play in exhibition games, during what Wang described as a "friendship tour."
Although the team is still working out some minor logistical details, they have already received the necessary approval from the Chinese government as well as the green light from the National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association.
"It's going to be great for the players and great for the kids," Wang said. "All you have to do to grow a sport is give kids heroes. It's not that complicated."
Two of the Islanders' top players echoed their owner's excitement.
"It'll be a unique experience," said rookie center John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in last June's amateur draft. "I wouldn't have ever gone to China if it weren't for something like this."
Matt Moulson, the team's leading scorer, is also looking forward to training in China. "I would have never gone to China in my life because I'm not much of a traveler," said Moulson, "so it will be a good life experience."
As a naturalized Chinese-American, Wang said he expected the experience to be extra special. Under Wang's direction, the team already has an office in China and initiatives to cultivate the sport in the country, providing education, hockey instruction and facilities throughout the Heilongjiang province.
"I have an adopted country and a country of birth. I'm very close to China, but I'm as American as apple pie so this is going to be very special," Wang said. "To be able to take my team there and introduce them to China is going to be so cool."
When asked whether he was concerned about the amount of travel the team will undergo and the potential implications for the start of their 2010-11 season, Wang said: "If we don't ever try, how will we know? The advantage and the reward is far greater than the risk - being too tired or whatever. We hope this inspires them to a new height."
Wang said he hopes his team leaves China with some valuable perspective.
"The world is much bigger, there is so much more to it than hockey," Wang said. "We have so much, we need to reach out to other people."