‘All but a lock’: NHL in talks to bring top-level ice hockey to Australia

The National Hockey League is in line to become the second of North America’s ‘Big Four’ sporting competitions to bring a regular-season fixture to Australia – and it could happen as soon as this year.

According to reports from the United States, the NHL is in talks to play games here to start the 2023-24 season, which is slated to begin in mid-October. David Pagnotta, the editor-in-chief of website The Fourth Period, tweeted that it is “all but a lock” to happen with only logistics and the teams involved yet to be determined, with the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks mentioned as possible contenders.

Nathan Walker is just one of two Aussies to feature in the NHL. Now the competition could be coming here.Credit:Getty

“Have we been approached numerous times over many years by promoters in Australia who’d love to bring NHL games over there? Absolutely,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “Has any final decision been made in that regard? No.”

While nothing has been confirmed, industry sources spoken to by this masthead have long been aware of discussions to bring professional ice hockey to Australia – although to make the venture commercially worthwhile, it would require converting either a large indoor arena, or even an outdoor stadium, to an ice hockey rink, which is a highly expensive and logistically difficult exercise.

Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium would appear to be the most obvious venue for the NHL, by virtue of its roof, and the timing also aligns with the end of the AFL season in September.

Sydney has recent experience in reconfiguring existing stadiums to major American sports, after the Sydney Cricket Ground was transformed for the opening series of the Major League Baseball season in 2014 in front of sold-out crowds.

But the NHL is no stranger to playing ice hockey outdoors, with features games played at outdoor stadiums across North America – while it has also regularly taken exhibition games outside the USA and Canada since the 1930s.

NHL regular-season games have also been played in Europe, for competition points, since 2007.

A visit by the NHL and its clubs would be a massive boost for ice hockey, a niche sport in Australia with little corporate or media support or broader public following. A spokesperson for Ice Hockey Australia, the national federation, was unaware of the reports and said they weren’t in a position to comment.

Sydney has hosted exhibition clashes between the United States and Canada in recent years, although the teams were mostly comprised of former NHL players and not current big-name stars – and sources familiar with the running of the ‘Ice Hockey Classic’, as those matches were billed, said they struggled to generate a strong financial return, hence the necessity for the NHL to look at bigger venues or stadiums.

Only two Australian players – 2018 Stanley Cup winner Nathan Walker, who was born in Wales and now plays for the St Louis Blues, and the Ontario Reign’s Jordan Spence, who was born in Sydney but grew up in Japan – have ever featured in the NHL.

The NBA and NFL, who together with the NHL and MLB make up the ‘Big Four’ leagues in America, have been rumoured to be considering bringing games to Australia for many years.

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