Islanders owner Charles Wang has wanted to bring his team to his home country for training camp for the past five years and this September he'll finally get his wish.
The Islanders will spend September 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 Chinese national hockey team will both be split in half then combined to play in exhibition games.
Although the team is still working out some minor logistical details, they have received approval from the NHL, NHLPA and the government for their nine-day jaunt to Asia.
"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."
As a 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 faciiities 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."
Originally Wang wanted to take his team to China this past September for training camp, but the logistics were not worked out in time so the team instead went to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
When Wang first began seriously thinking about this as a possibility five years ago he was initially met with some skepticism from the players' association. There was concerns about travel time, accommodations and facilities meeting certain standards, but Wang has since received their blessing.
When asked whether he was concerned about the amount of travel the team will undergo and the potential implications, 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."
***I also confirmed with Wang that he has recently had discussions with the league about an outdoor event (not necessarily January 1) that would feature games against the Rangers, Devils as well as a youth hockey tournament. Because NBC has rights to outdoor events, this will not happen next season, although Wang said he's optimistic for the possibility in the near future.