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National Hockey League to Open New Season in London


For the first time in the history of North America's National Hockey League, the season's opening game will be staged in Europe. On Saturday, the defending champion Anaheim Ducks will face off against their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Kings in London kicking off the 90th NHL season. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports.

Call it a homecoming for the oldest team trophy in North American sports, hockey's Stanley Cup. The trophy began life in London and was donated to Canada's top amateur team in 1892 by the then-governor general of Canada, Lord Stanley.

In 1910, it was given to the professional ranks. Last year the Anaheim Ducks raised the cup and this weekend in London they start their defense of that championship in the NHL's 90th season when they face their rivals, the Los Angeles Kings in a two-game series.

Once before in the 1990s, the NHL held exhibition games here but never regular season games.

Many players in the National Hockey League now come from Europe and European fan interest is growing. Because of this, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says starting the season in London this year makes a lot of sense.

"We are responding to interest," he said. "Bringing over a couple of regular season games is a way to deal with that and bringing our best product as opposed to exhibition games. And obviously we are the first here. You know I think there's a basketball league that has got a couple of exhibition games here coming shortly. There is a football league that has got a regular season game coming. The world is shrinking and people have the luxury of using the Internet and satellite and cable TV, digital media to follow sports on a worldwide basis and we are trying to be good citizens in the hockey world in terms of being responsive to fan interest and trying to grow the game."

Bettman says do not expect to see an NHL franchise here anytime soon, but more of these games could become an annual fixture.

Head Coach of the Los Angeles Kings, Marc Crawford says broadening the horizons is good and this unusual way of starting the season has been good for his players.

"I think anytime you can come and experience something new it is always very, very beneficial and I am sure that any team in the league would love to do that," he said. "I think that the success here you know, with the games being sold out without it being done, it shows that there is a real market for the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League brand. So, I hope the games are great. I think that will be the best selling point. If you have entertaining and exciting games, then I think that this will be something that the league can look at and maybe do on a regular basis."

Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger says mixing hockey and sightseeing has been a good combination.

"We did kind of a little bus tour with the [Stanley] Cup and went to Big Ben, I think Tower Bridge, [we] drove by Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey and some of those places so, it was kind of neat to see a lot of the history behind London and whatnot yesterday I got to see some golfing and a little more history behind the British Open and things like that so, it was pretty neat," he said.

And a huge worldwide audience is expected. The games are being telecast around the world to some 115 countries.

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