NHL Eyes North Korea for Outdoor Game in 2015
Ten years ago, Edmonton hosted the inaugural Heritage Classic hockey game.
This year, the NHL has scheduled six outdoor games at venues that include Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Soldier Field in Chicago, and BC Place in Vancouver.
But it seems that in 2015, hockey fans may be treated to an outdoor hockey game in a more exotic location – Pyongyang, North Korea.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed reports yesterday that the league is considering hosting one of 30 outdoor hockey games next year in North Korea’s capital city. It appears the league is hoping to capitalize on Dennis Rodman’s visit to the country earlier this year.
“For too long, the NHL has taken second fiddle to basketball and football in international markets,” noted Daly. “We are continually trying to grow our sport, and we feel that North Korea is the perfect country in which to do so. Coming out of a lockout-shortened season, we want to reward all of our fans, including those from hockey-starved countries.”
It is unknown how many of North Korea’s 24 million people actually play hockey, but most believe the figure to be in the dozens. This lack of participation does not seem to worry the NHL.
“Thirty years ago, you probably would have said the same thing about Lithuania,” responded Daly. “And now look at Dainius Zubrus.”
Ho Ki Fun, Minister of Cultural Enrichment and Sports for North Korea, would not confirm that NHL officials had reached out to him, but he did acknowledge that the country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, is a fanatic hockey fan. Speaking to a translator, the minister described watching Sidney Crosby’s gold medal clinching goal over the US in 2010 with both Kim Jong-un and his father, the late Kim Jong-Il.
“Seeing the devastation in the eyes of the US players brought great joy to our country,” he recalled.
Hosting an outdoor hockey game in one of the world’s most reclusive countries will be no small challenge. Dan Craig, the NHL’s Senior Director of Facilities Operations, usually works with the host venue up to six months in advance of the game to ensure that ice conditions are suitable.
“Since I won’t be allowed into the country before or during the event, I’ll just have to trust what I hear from their officials,” said Craig.
Convincing players to travel to North Korea will likely be much easier.
“In anticipation of expanding to new markets, the NHL negotiated a clause in the last CBA last year that requires players to play almost anywhere,” explained Daly. “This includes sub-tropical climates and war-torn countries.”
Critics of the NHL say the league has watered down what used to be a special event, and that hosting a game in Pyongyang will merely be a publicity stunt to boost ratings.
“Haters gonna hate,” responded Daly. “But at the end of the day, if we can convince one North Korean child to pick up a hockey stick, it will have been worth it.”