NHL keen to set up shop in Paris


Will the NHL play soon in Paris Image: NHL

As the National Hockey League (NHL’s) (US) European Player Media Tour recently made a stop in Paris (France), the league’s Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly raised the possibility of organizing a pre-season match in the capital in the future.

‘Sports Fuat’ stated that would the NHL be ready to follow the path set by the National Basketball Association (NBA). While the North American basketball league organized a first regular season game in Paris in 2020 and will do it again on January 19th with a duel between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls, that of ice hockey remains shy about its outings far from its territory.

The National Hockey League (NHL) is a professional ice hockey league in North America comprising 32 teams – 25 in the United States and 7 in Canada. It is considered to be the top ranked professional ice hockey league in the world, and is one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is a professional basketball league in North America. The league is composed of 30 teams and is one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. It is the premier men’s professional basketball league in the world.

‘Sports Fuat’ further stated that however, after a first experience in London at the start of the 2007-2008 seasons, the NHL seems ready to conquer the world again.

Indeed, in the middle of a media tour in Europe, the North American Ice Hockey League stopped off in Paris to promote its activities. Deputy Commissioner Daly – who was a part of the media tour – stated that he was open to the idea of organizing matches in the Old Continent (Europe) and more particularly in Paris.

Stating that “The economy is in great shape here in Paris”, the NHL official said it could start with the unofficial games.

Added Daly, “It would be great if teams could compete against each other eventually. It would probably be a preseason game at first, but it’s on the radar.

Daly further observed that people would buy their tickets in advance because even if hockey is not hugely popular, it would help put the sport in the spotlight in France. However, for the same to materialize will take time.

Perfect Homecoming

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was understandably the most excited among the 19 players at the NHL European Player Media Tour in Paris on August 24th.

‘NHL’ stated that born in the Paris suburb of Le Blanc-Mesnil, the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL team) forward normally returns to the ‘City of Lights’ once a year with his family to visit his sister. But like everyone else, he didn’t travel much the past two offseasons because of COVID-19.

So having the NHL use Paris for the first time as the European site to promote its upcoming season was a welcome opportunity for Bellemare to come home and bring more attention to the sport he loves in his native country.

Exulted Bellemare, “I think it’s pretty cool. I love it. The only downside of it is the French media is not aware. I would’ve loved to have French media so we could use it also for growing the game in France because it’s needed.”

Bellemare, who lives in Skelleftea, Sweden, in the offseason, is one of three players born in France who played in the NHL last season, along with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Alexandre Texier and Arizona Coyotes forward Antoine Roussel. He’s one of 13 born in the country to play in the NHL in its history.

With hockey rarely in the spotlight in France, the NHL is exploring ways to change that. In fact, the European Player Media Tour might be the start of the league having more of a presence here.

‘NHL’ quoted Deputy Commissioner Daly as stating, “Part of the reason we decided to come to Paris was in part another short Summer, and we’re asking our players to make a commitment to capture media content to promote the game. In making that request you want to pick a location in Europe that players want to spend time in and bring guests to. Part of it is about accommodating player interests, but do we have an interest in making hockey bigger in France generally? Of course, we do. That starts at the grassroots level, more participation in hockey.”

It could eventually lead to an NHL game in Paris.

Continued Daly, “Obviously, a very mature, wealthy economy here in Paris. It would be great to bring teams over here at some point in the future and play a game. Probably a preseason game at first, but that’s certainly on the radar screen, although maybe a longer-term radar.”

Although Paris might not have a readymade NHL fan base, it wouldn’t be the first time the league played in a non-traditional European hockey market. The NHL teams Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, who were the reigning Stanley Cup champions at the time, opened the 2007-2008 regular seasons with a pair of games in London.

Those were the first NHL regular-season games played in Europe and each was a sellout. Bellemare believes a preseason game in Paris would draw similarly – “I think the rink would probably be full. People would book way ahead because the game is not big, but it would just put hockey on the map in France. At the end of the day, what I’m doing, what Roussel is doing or what Texier is doing, we’re just trying to make sure that people see that there is a possibility to end up in the NHL. There is a possibility to live out the dream.”

Living that dream was challenging for Bellemare, who moved to Montpellier in Southern France when he was just three years old and returned to Le Blanc-Mesnil (commune in France) when he was 11. Playing hockey made Bellemare an oddity and teachers would sometimes tell him, “You’re not going to be able to make it, so you might as well quit now.”

Bellemare signed his first NHL contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in the year 2014.

Bellemare was 29 when he joined the Flyers. In eight NHL seasons, the 37-year-old forward has 118 points (56 goals, 62 assists) in 587 regular-season games with the Flyers, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, and Tampa Bay Lightning and 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 79 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Reminisced Bellemare, “When I was a kid, the only time you would see the NHL was on TV, and that would happen never. The only thing you would see was the Olympic Games every four years. So that’s why I never grew up thinking about the NHL or dreaming about it. I never cared about it because it was not something you could achieve. Now, it’s really easy with the Internet to be able to watch an NHL game every time when they’re on.”

Bellemare believes easier access to NHL games has fueled more interest in the sport. Playing an NHL game in Paris would provide a bigger spark – “If there was an NHL game, it would bring media to the game. Media would bring money to hockey, and that will give the possibilities of reusable equipment. … A little bit more money into hockey would bring more possibilities for the federation to bring equipment to each team so that they could invite people to try it. And as you soon as you play it, you get stung by the game 100 percent.”

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