Ice hockey legend Gretzky to take up new role at Chinese KHL club

Ice hockey legend Gretzky to take up new role at Chinese KHL club
Canadian ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is taking up a role as global ambassador for Chinese club Kunlun Red Star, who compete in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

Beijing-based Red Star is China’s only professional ice hockey club, and Gretzky’s role will include helping to develop youth participation in the sport as the Chinese capital gears up to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The club began competing in the Russian-based KHL in 2016 – the year they were founded – and the team’s roster consists predominantly of overseas players.

NHL legend Gretzky, 57, is also planning to open a KRS-Gretzky Hockey School for players aged 8-17 in Beijing and the city of Shenzhen, which could possibly expand to more than 20 locations across China, according to the China Daily newspaper.

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Red Star executive director Ao Meng said Gretzky’s new role would provide a “tremendous boost” to efforts to grow the game in the country.

“To now have him part of the growth of hockey in China in the build-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics will promote interest and participation in the sport, especially among young people,” Ao said. 

"His contribution to the game is incalculable. To now have him part of the growth of hockey in China in the build-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics will promote interest and participation in the sport, especially among young people."

Greyzky – nicknamed ‘The Great One’ due to his stellar 20-year career in which he became the all-time leading NHL scorer – said that he was “excited” by the chance to help the game develop in the Far East.   

"I'm excited to make my first trip to China next month and partner with Kunlun Red Star to grow this wonderful game," the Hall of Famer said, adding: "I'm looking forward to seeing more and more young players take part in the sport."

Gretzky is set to make visits to Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai in September – the same month as the NHL holds promotional games in China with the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames facing off in two encounters.

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Red Star begin the new KHL season with a clash against Finnish outfit Jokerit on September 3 in Helsinki.

The KHL was formed out of the Russian Superleague in 2008, and has since grown to 25 teams from seven countries: Russia (19 teams), Belarus (1), China (1), Finland (1), Kazakhstan (1), Latvia (1) and Slovakia (1).