Kulund Red Star of the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) has announced that they’ve appointed NHL legend Wayne Gretzky as the team’s global ambassador as part of a long-term agreement that will see The Great One develop a youth development hockey program in China.
Say what!? The Great One in the land of The Great Wall? You bet.
Red Star has also announced the opening of the KRS-Gretzky Hockey School which provides players aged 8-17 with training facilities in Beijing and Shenzhen. The school will expand to at least 20 different locations across China within the next five years. Additionally, Gretzky will be making promotional trips to Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai this September.
“Having Wayne Gretzky on board is a tremendous boost for hockey in China,” said Ao Meng, executive director of Kunlun Red Star. “His contribution to the game is incalculable. To now have him part of the growth of hockey in China in the buildup to the 2022 Winter Olympics will promote interest and participation in the sport, especially among young people.”
Gretzky said the opportunity to promote the sport in a non-traditional market poses an intriguing challenge.
“I’m excited to make my first trip to China next month and partner with Kunlun Red Star to grow this wonderful game,” said the 57-year-old.
“I’m looking forward to seeing more and more young players take part in the sport.”
Gretzky, of course, is one of the biggest superstars in NHL history and is generally regarded as the best player to ever play the sport. He’s certainly the most accomplished and has the most worldwide recognition. He’s the NHL’s all-time scoring leader and set more than 60 all time NHL records over the course of his 20 year career.
Red Star is entering its third season in the KHL, a league which features teams from Russia, China, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia. Red Star, however, is China’s lone team. During their inaugural season in 2016-17, Red Star managed to qualify for the KHL Playoffs but lost in the Conference Quarterfinals to the defending champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The team currently features former NHLers Gilbert Brule, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Andrei Kostitsyn and Kyle Chipchura.