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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 September 2007, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
NHL circus in town
By Paul Woloszyn

Todd Bertuzzi at the 02 in London. Photo by Diane Davey
This is something different and exciting

Anaheim Ducks star Todd Bertuzzi in London
Some of North American sports' biggest stars will showcase their skills in London over the next month as a roadshow of ice hockey, basketball and American football hits the capital.

October sees NBA and NFL games, but this weekend it's the turn of NHL as the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings meet twice at the 02 Arena in the first regular-season games ever staged in Europe.

"This is an exciting place to be, with an opportunity to showcase the NHL to people in the UK," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, whose team begin the new season as defending Stanley Cup champions.

"We just hope it gives more exposure to the sport. It's a world game and we're playing here in London. I think there are 200-plus media outlets here that are going to cover it, so it's an excellent opportunity," he added.

Billed as the UK Premiere Series, the two sell-out games are being televised in 115 countries and follow three previous successful season-opening games played in Japan in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

Two-time NHL All-Star, Todd Bertuzzi said: "It's something different to start the season. We'd usually be over in the US preparing so this is different and exciting."

Ducks defenceman and five-time All-Star Chris Pronger added: "It's exciting to get the season started and to be on our travels and to help market the game in a new country.

"It's certainly a big opportunity for us to build the brand of hockey more globally.

"You would hope that us being here would help grow the game. Hockey is a growing game in Europe, and fans here like their physical sports with rugby and soccer, so I hope hockey can become a hit here too."

Hockey is a growing game in Europe, and fans here like their physical sports with rugby and soccer, so I hope hockey can become a hit too

Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger

If ticket sales are anything to go by, the public's imagination has certainly been caught by the event with a 17,500 capacity crowd expected on Saturday and Sunday.

CEO of the 02, Philip Beard said: "When we announced the games, they pretty much sold out in a couple of weeks. I have to admit that I was surprised.

"We thought it might take a lot longer to promote the event, but not only did sports fans get behind it but the ice hockey leagues in the UK were really keen to promote it as well."

Beard is particularly pleased with the interest despite the games taking place on a sporting weekend also featuring World Cup rugby and Premier League football.

"It's fair to say that at the moment there is a massive amount of big sport on, but this weekend is a total sell-out.

"People are coming from all over the UK and, indeed, across Europe," he told BBC Sport.

The Anaheim Ducks with the Stanley Cup in London. Photo by Diane Davey.
Anaheim take the Stanley Cup on a Thameside walkabout
The North Greenwich arena also plays host to an NBA basketball exhibition match on 10 October between the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves, with anticipation amongst fans seemingly just as high as for the ice hockey.

"Interestingly, that went perhaps even more quickly than the ice hockey," revealed Beard.

"It's a pre-season game and the big news for people into basketball is that Kevin Garnett, one of the NBA's biggest stars, moved from Minnesota to Boston in the close season, so that adds interest."

Owned by the US-based Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the design of the 02 Arena was based on the Staples Center in Los Angeles, home of the LA Lakers basketball team and this weekend's ice hockey visitors the LA Kings.

It took five days to get the arena up to NHL standards, work that began last Friday following the end of rock star Prince's 21-night residency, but left some mixed early impressions with the players following the Ducks first training session on Wednesday.


"The arena's nice. As for the ice, we're the first team to skate on it so that left a little to be desired, but I'm sure by Saturday it'll be good," said Pronger.

He and his team-mates wasted no time in getting to see the sights of London, visiting the Tower of London, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace aboard a traditional red bus with the Stanley Cup in tow.

Some also took in Fulham's Carling Cup game with Bolton and, while ice hockey may never match the popularity of 'soccer' in the UK, this weekend will see one of North America's 'Big Four' sports vying for global attention in Britain.

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