NHL Global Series successfully launches 2023-24 season in Australia
While the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings were busy competing for a playoff berth and the league’s Arizona Coyotes were playing in a college arena last season, plans were underway for the two teams to meet in the 2023 preseason as the kickoff to this year’s NHL Global Series, a venture intended to grow the game (and the league’s popularity) internationally.
The two teams played over the weekend of September 23-24, and split the preseason series.
Half a world away from North America, in the city of Melbourne, Australia, months-long preparations were made to host the NHL — for the very first time — at Rod Laver Arena, which seats over 13,000.
Last preseason and regular season featured NHL Global Series games, as well — with exhibition games played in Switzerland and Germany and regular season games played in the Czech Republic and Finland. NHL games have been played as far away as in Japan in the past; but this year was the first time Australia had the opportunity to host the league.
This is the fifth year of the official NHL Global Series, and although the NHL has played games internationally on and off since its inception, all the previous NHL Global Series games have been played in Europe.
The Stanley Cup travels to Melbourne
The league’s most coveted trophy found its way to Melbourne, as well as players, coaches, the media, and fans.
Although the championship trophy had never before visited the Southern Hemisphere, it can now cross that item off its bucket list.
“It’s never been below the equator, which is pretty amazing, especially in today’s world,” said Phil Pritchard, vice president of the Hockey Hall of Fame, also known as the “Keeper of the Cup.”
According to nhl.com, the Cup has traveled to 31 countries in the Northern Hemisphere, including to Afghanistan to visit troops and to Japan and China for NHL events. Although hockey is not a much played sport in Australia, it was Pritchard’s hope that the two games being played there along with the Cup Tour would help to increase its popularity.
The Keeper of the Cup had this to say prior to his trip: “I think it’s going to be very, very exciting for the fans that are down there and even for those that aren’t familiar with the game. I think they’re going to see a game that is really fast, really exciting, and hopefully we create some new hockey fans from it.”
Game successes in the Australia Global Series
By all accounts, the trip was a successful one for both the Cup and the players from the two teams who made the 8,000-mile trip to Melbourne. As stated in the Sydney Morning Herald, Arizona Coyotes’ rookie Logan Cooley will always remember his foray into Rod Laver Arena — and his performance and one goal in particular that went viral among internet hockey circles.
Coyotes forward Clayton Keller was the first NHL player ever to score a goal in the Southern Hemisphere. But Keller was even more impressed with Cooley’s goal, remarking “It was one of the best goals I’ve ever seen. The spin around was one thing, but to have the patience to pull it to your forehand and then finish it — definitely one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Cooley had this to say: “It’s still preseason right? It doesn’t officially count. But it was just a fun game to play in and it felt good to get one under the belt — but we’ll wait for the real one [a regular season goal] before being that happy about it.”
Both games played at the arena were sellouts, with over 13,000 fans attending each. The first game was won by the Coyotes, 5-3. The second game was won by the Kings, 3-2.
Multiple accounts noted they saw jerseys from all 32 NHL teams at the two games, as well as a few past ones such as jerseys from the Quebec Nordiques. NHL officials seemed satisfied with what they saw as well as sales of merchandise, with NHL international strategy senior vice-president Lynn White stating, “Based on this initial event, we are really positive that there is a real opportunity for the NHL in Melbourne specifically, and Australia more generally.”
Growing the game in the Land Down Under
Steve Dimopoulous, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events for Victoria, said 40 percent of the tickets for the 2023 NHL Global Series, Melbourne were purchased outside the state, meaning fans came from all over the country.
According to nhl.com, you could see NHL gear all over the city of Melbourne on Saturday, September 23rd, the first day of the two games. In addition, crowds thronged to activities at the NHL Global Fan Tour outside Rod Laver Arena. Attendees included both expats and Aussies.
Fans adopted various different NHL teams as their own for as many reasons as there are jerseys to be had. Some had attended a game in the US or Canada. Some are hard core ice hockey online gamers. Others yet actually play field or ice hockey, and feel an attachment to the NHL through their own passion for the game.
The NHL Australia Global Series demonstrated the possibility of taking the NHL to markets in which it’s never been seen or played before. Next up for the Global Series are four games from November 16-19 at Avicii Arena, in Stockholm, Sweden, in which the Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs will participate.
These are regular season games, however; and in the words of Logan Cooley, they will officially count.