International growth beckons for Kings as they head to Australia

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
The Kings will open the preseason with two games against the Arizona Coyotes 8,000 miles from home in Melbourne, Australia.

The Los Angeles Kings have landed in Melbourne, Australia ahead of their week-long training camp, and preseason games against the Arizona Coyotes. The games will mark the first time the NHL and Kings have explored such southern soil, but certainly not the first time the NHL has used the Kings to venture into new territories. In 2017, the Kings went to China for a pair of matchups against the Vancouver Canucks.

With the sporting scene in Australia as vivid as ever, the decision to travel down under seems like a great move for the NHL to widen its fanbase in a country full of hungry sports-driven fans.

However, with great opportunity, also comes reason for concern. From an athletic perspective, the great haul to Australia poses some issues for the players in terms of acclimating to the environment in Australia. Not only did they face a 15-hour travel day, but upon landing were met with a 17-hour time change, and climate with humidity similar to that of Texas. Nevertheless, Kings head coach Todd McLellan squashed these concerns, saying that he was of course aware of the effect it may have on his athletes, but could see how great the opportunity being presented was, and what good that would do for both the team, and organization.

“We’re trying to promote the game, I think we all have a responsibility to do that,” McLellan said. “Whether we’re an organization, a group of coaches, or players we’ve got to promote the game, and we’ve got to do it worldwide. There’s a benefit to our organization, to our players, to getting out and doing this. It does come with some risk, and we’re obviously well aware of those, the travel, the toll that it takes on the body but we’re trying to look at it from the other perspective, because there’s a lot of positives that can come out of it.”

A seasoned coach, McLellan is no stranger to the risks and rewards of professional sport, and neither is Kings president Luc Robitaille. It was in fact, Robitaille who was ultimately responsible for making the decision to send the team to Australia.

“It’s good for the NHL to go there, we need to expand,” Robitaille said. “Talking to some people from Australia, the NFL has been there, they say the Rams are really relevant there, the NBA has been there, but the NHL has never been there. As an organization, we feel if we have an opportunity to go, and it’s good for our brand, and good for things like that, but there’s a lot of things that we’re trying to do, we’re always trying to grow the game. We do it a lot in Southern California, we’ve worked really hard over the last 20 years. The league and the union work really hard to make sure these trips are well done.”

In many ways, Robitaille’s sentiments regarding the team’s growth in California speak to the overall decision to partake in the 2023 NHL Global series in Melbourne. Expansion doesn’t come overnight and certainly, for some teams like the Kings, more effort is required than others. For both the Kings and Coyotes who are considered West Coast teams, the upcoming week should lend them the upper hand on a global market, helping them to get ahead of the game so to speak.

Whilst this trip is uncharted territory for most, for Jordan Spence, it will be a homecoming.

The Australian native, who was born in Sydney, spent just shy of two years in Australia before moving to Japan, and then later on, Canada. His time in Australia might not qualify him for one’s definition of a return-to-home, yet nonetheless, this first trip back is special to the defenseman.

“For me, the last time I was in Australia I was only one, and a half years old, so it’s been a while,” said Spence. “It’ll be my second time ever being there and this time I’ll remember it. Obviously, I’ve heard a lot of good things from my parents about the fans, I’ve heard sport is a really big thing there, especially football. Going there, and seeing the fans cheer us on is going to be surreal.”

With Australian-born players like Spence in the mix, there’s no doubt that the Aussies will get right behind the Kings during the weekend’s games. Could this be the start of a growing support for the Kings in Australia? I certainly think so.

As for the other twenty-seven players heeding the King’s roster, this week will surely find itself somewhere atop a resume of highlights for them when they eventually look back on their time playing. Especially, given the immense sporting history that is so deeply rooted in the grounds of Rod Laver Arena.

The Kings’ games against the Coyotes will be on the NHL Network on Sept. 23 and 24 at 9:05 p.m. PT.