Wayne Gretzky, a man known to hockey players and fans around the globe as ‘The Great One,’ has thrown his star power behind an unlikely team: China’s own Kunlun Red Star.
According to a Facebook post from Kunlun Red Star, Gretzky will serve as the club’s global ambassador and work to promote the game of ice hockey in China.
The Great One will also partner with Red Star to open two hockey schools, one in Beijing and one in Shenzhen, this September. Dubbed KRS-Gretzky Hockey Schools, the training centers will later expand to 20 other Chinese cities, according to Sports Illustrated.
The Red Star Facebook post also adds that Gretzky will visit the Middle Kingdom from September 12-18, stopping in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Screengrab via Facebook
Gretzky’s China trip will coincide with the arrival in the PRC of the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League (NHL) for preseason games in Shenzhen and Beijing (although it appears Gretzky will leave before the Beijing game on September 19). While nothing has been confirmed yet, several sources close to the NHL China Games have told That’s it is extremely likely Gretzky will appear at the Shenzhen game on September 15. (Snag tickets to the Shenzhen NHL game here, and click here for tickets to the Beijing game).
"I'm excited to make my first trip to China next month and partner with Kunlun Red Star to grow this wonderful game," the 57-year-old told China Daily. "I'm looking forward to seeing more and more young players take part in the sport."
Image via Wikimedia
Gretzky played 20 seasons in the NHL with four teams: the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. Upon his retirement from the league in 1999, he had set over 60 records – including many that have been dubbed unbreakable.
Since his retirement from the NHL in 1999, Gretzky has remained closely connected to the league that made him one the most celebrated athletes of the 20th century. In 2000, he purchased a 10 percent stake in the Phoenix Coyotes and served as their head coach from 2005-2009. Most recently, in 2016, Gretzky was announced as partner and vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group, the Edmonton Oilers’ parent company.
Image via Kunlun Red Star/Facebook
In partnering with Kunlun Red Star, the Canadian hockey legend is taking on his first role within the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). China’s first KHL team, Kunlun Red Star had their first season in the league in 2016-17, playing in Beijing. Last season Red Star played in Shanghai while waiting for a new stadium to finish construction in the Chinese capital.
The team roster boasted a number of NHL alumni last season, including Canadians Gilbert Brulé, Kyle Chipchura, Brandon Yip and Brandon DeFazio.
Gretzky’s new role with Kunlun Red Star is just the latest move in the push to raise the profile of winter sports in China as the 2022 Winter Olympics, to be held in Beijing and Zhangjiakou, approaches.
Looking to score tickets to witness the NHL’s Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames duke it out in the Middle Kingdom? We have you covered, hockey fans, with links to purchase tickets to the Shenzhen game here, and the Beijing game here!
[Cover image via kris krüg/Flickr]