Growing the Game and the NHL’s History of International Matches

On March 29, 2017, the National Hockey League (NHL) made an announcement; the Los Angeles Kings will play two games against the Vancouver Canucks overseas in China. One game will be in Shanghai on September 21st, and the other game will be in Beijing on September 23rd. These games will be the first games played in China and the first games played on international soil since 2011. This announcement was made alongside the long-awaited announcement from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about the NHL’s lack of participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The NHL has quite a long history of battling teams from around the world at home and abroad.

Early Days

The NHL kicked off its international adventures by going on a European tour in 1938. The Detroit Red Wings played a nine-game series against the Montreal Canadiens in England and France. But this was not the first attempt to take the NHL brand of hockey to foreign ice.

14 years before the first European NHL game, Frank Patrick, the then-head coach of the Vancouver Maroons of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, wanted Montreal to go to battle with the Maroons in London to play a few exhibition games. Unfortunately, they were not able to get the deal done so the games never occurred.

The Patrick family wasn’t done yet with trying to take the NHL overseas. Lester Patrick, the brother of Frank, wanted to take his New York Rangers to London. He got a deal in place to play the first NHL game in England, but a Patrick-family deal once again failed due to failed negotiations with the Canadiens. The main issue was the lack of proper rinks to hold the games on.

After the two failed attempts, Montreal decided they would try to jump on the ship and sail to Europe (metaphorically, of course). The then-Montreal General manager Leo Dandurand announced that the team was all but confirmed to play eight games across four cities in Europe. Talks started about who they would play, and the New York Rangers were eventually announced as the team to take on the Canadiens. Once again, lady luck looked away as the deal just could not be finalized, and the tour fell apart.

Montreal_Canadiens_hockey_team,_October_1942

Then came the Detroit Red Wings. After missing the 1938 playoffs, they were free to join Montreal, who were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, in a European trip. Finally, the stage was set for games in England. The tour kicked off on April 21, 1938, in London. In front of 8000 fans, the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime.

The tour finished on May 14th with the Red Wings winning 5-2. The Canadiens won 2 out of the 3 games played. After the tour ended, the reception was overall positive. The players and the fans were very excited that the tour had finally taken place.

A second European tour happened 21 years after the first. The Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to play 23 games across England, Switzerland, France, Belgium, West Germany, and Austria. The Rangers defeated the Bruins in the series with an 11-9-3 record. This would be the start of a long history of playing games on international ice.

The NHL Takes on the World.

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CSKA Moscow “Red Army” vs Philadelphia Flyers

During the 1970s, the NHL held exhibition matches on home soil against Russian and Czech teams. The Super Series of games took teams from other leagues and pitted them against what the NHL had to offer.

The first game of the series took place in 1975. CSKA Moscow – aka the “Red Army” team – and Krylya Sovetov Moscow – the “Soviet Wings”  – played eight games against several NHL teams. The Soviet teams held a winning record over the NHL teams at 5-2-1 (CSKA 2-1-1, Krylya Sovetov 3-1-0). The most famous of these games was the January 11, 1976 game where CSKA faced off against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers were a rough bunch, developing the nickname “The Broad Street Bullies” from their physical play. The tough crash-and-smash style drew the ire of hockey purists at the time. The Red Army team was one of the most dominant groups in sports history when they came into Philly.

The game started out on the wrong foot before the puck even hit the ice. Flyers owner Ed Snider was to speak to the teams before the game. Tensions between the sides were thick, and Mr. Snider was taught a friendly phrase in Russian that he was planning on delivering. Well, that never happened as both teams were not too pleased to be in the presence of each other. Once the game started, the Flyers used their trademarked physical play to dictate the pace of the game. The heavy hitting came to a stop when Flyer Ed Van Impe laid a crushing elbow on CSKA’s Valeri Kharlamov, sending the Red Army star to the ice.

Kharlamov was down prone for a while, and the officials decided not to call a penalty. During the stoppage due to CSKA’s complaining, the officials called a bench penalty on the team. CSKA Head Coach Konstantin Loktev decided he had seen enough and ordered his team off the ice. Flyers owner Ed Snider went to the president of the Soviet Hockey Federation to demand they return to the ice or they won’t get paid. They got into a shouting match over the game and the lack of a penalty call. Eventually, things cooled down after the then-NHL President Clarence Campbell talked the Soviet team into finishing the game.

As the game resumed, the Flyers were more physical and got a quick goal. They ended up winning 4-1 to become the first NHL team to defeat the Soviet Red Army team.

The NHL and Soviet teams were not finished yet. The Challenge Cup was a best-of-3 series that took place in 1979. The Challenge Cup saw the NHL All-Stars taking on the Soviet Union National team. Replacing the NHL All-Star game that year, the stage was all

Challenge_Cup_1979
Challenge Cup

set at Madison Square Garden. The first game saw the NHL jump out to a quick start, with the first goal coming just 16 seconds into the tourney. The period would end with the NHL All-Stars up 3-1. They would continue that success en-route to winning the first game 4-2, taking a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 saw the teams battle it out to a 4-4 tie going into the 3rd period. It didn’t take the Soviets long to break the tie, as Vladimir Golikov, who also played in the “Miracle on Ice” game, put the puck in the net just 1:31 into the period. The Soviets would hold on to win the game and tie the series up.

On February 11, 1979, the Challenge Cup series would be decided. After a scoreless 1st period, the Soviets notched 2 goals within two minutes of one another to take a 2-0 lead going into the final regulation period. The Soviet National Team put the pedal to the floor, scoring 4 more goals to march to a 6-0 shutout of the NHL All-Stars. This won them the series 2 games to 1.

1989 saw the NHL take the fight back overseas, as the Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals went on a 12-game tour. Taking on teams from Sweden and the USSR, the Flames played twice in Czechoslovakia before officially kicking off the tournament. The NHL came out on top of the series at 7-5-0.

The NHL played a quite few series over the years against teams from around the world. To date, the league has a winning record in the efforts with an overall record of 100-71-11.

Long Distance Starts to the Season

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Minnesota Wild vs Carolina Hurricanes in Helsinki 2010

Starting in 2007, the NHL began a new campaign called NHL Premiere. For the first time in league history, the NHL was having its first opening game somewhere else besides North America. London, England became the first city to host an official NHL regular season game in Europe. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks took the battle of California across the pond, with each team taking a 4-1 win over the other.

The number of teams opening their season doubled in 2008 and 2009. The Victoria Cup was also introduced as a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). In 2008, a game between the New York Rangers and Metallurg

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Victoria Cup 2008

Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The Rangers won the opening Victoria Cup with a 4-3 victory. The next year, the Chicago Blackhawks played Zürcher Schlittschuh Club Lions (ZSC Lions) from the Swiss National League A. ZSC Lions defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 to take the Victoria Cup. This would, unfortunately, be the last Victoria Cup held. A game was originally going to be held between an NHL team and a team from either the KHL, SM-liiga (now Liiga), Czech Extraliga, or Elitserien. The game never occurred, thus seemingly ending the Victoria Cup.

The NHL Premiere series would continue until 2011. The NHL decided not to continue the Premiere series for the 2012 season.

The NHL has recently announced a new venture into international regular season games with the NHL Global Series. The Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche will play two games in Sweden on November 10th and 11th of 2017. Unlike the NHL Premiere games, these will be played after the regular season has already begun.

Venturing out of their own backyard, the NHL has had success on and off the ice. With an overall winning record against international clubs and bringing new eyes to the league, the NHL is poised to add another victory when they travel to China and Sweden in the 2017-18 season. While the league has decided to pass on playing in the Winter Olympics for 2018, they hope to light the lamp of success once again internationally while trying to avoid shooting high and wide.


Jim McBride is the “Beyond the Ice” writer for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can contact him at jmcbride@gnghockey.com.

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