Kings center Phillip Danault is fluent in French and English, but the sound of Australian slang confused him.
As he approached the speaker’s chair at a news conference Friday before the Kings’ departure for their NHL Global Series trip to Melbourne, someone greeted him with the words “Good day, buddy.” Danault’s usual smile gave way to a confused expression.
“What is that?” he asked.
“Hello, buddy,” it came back to him.
“I don’t know what it means,” he said.
That’s what people in Australia say to greet each other, he was told, a valuable lesson for the NHL’s first foray into the land down under. Luckily, no one asked Danault if he wanted a Vegemite sandwich. That might be impossible to explain.
The NHL will apparently do anything to promote the sport – short of re-establishing a franchise in Quebec City. In this case, the league is sending the Kings about 8,000 miles to familiarize Australian hockey fans – enough to support a 10-team semipro league – with the NHL product in two preseason games against the Arizona Coyotes.
With Melbourne 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles, the teams will compete on Friday and Saturday at 9pm Pacific time. The games will be simulcast by well-known Kings announcers Nick Nickson, Jim Fox and Daryl Evans on NHL Network and iHeartRadio, a test for their simulcasts on Bally Sports West in the first year of a new three-year deal with Diamond Sports Group. The matches will take place at Rod Laver Arena, home of the Australian Open.
The Kings’ traveling party also includes defender Jordan Spence, who was born in the Sydney suburb of Manly. Nathan Walker grew up in Australia and represented the country in international play, but was born in Wales. Spence cannot act as a tour guide: his family left Australia for Canada when he was 1½ years old, too young for him to remember his homeland. This is his second trip back; His parents, Kyoko and Adam, will be among the fans in Melbourne.
“I think they’re more excited just because they’ve been living there longer,” said Spence, who has Japanese and Canadian citizenship through his parents. “They’ve got some friends they’re going to get back in touch with and they’re going to come to the game and stuff. Yeah, it’ll be pretty cool.”
It’s a long way to two games that don’t count in the standings. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL has wanted to send teams to Australia for some time, but the logistics haven’t worked out so far. It’s unlikely to be an annual destination due to the distance, and the NHL is unlikely to threaten the popularity of Australian Rules Football or Rugby, but it is a base for a league seeking a greater international presence.
The players make the most of the long journey.
“The flight time is not ideal, but I think once we get there it will be the start of training camp and everyone is excited to get started,” said team captain Anze Kopitar, who signed a two-year, $14 million contract has extension in July until 2025-26. “I think we’ll also have a day or two to explore the city, which should be fun.”
Danault really wanted to look for spiders. Kevin Fiala, healthy after being slowed by a lower-body injury late last season, said he hoped to “find some dangerous animals that I know. It might be cool to see something.”
The benefit of the trip is the chance to create team chemistry. “The bonding thing is probably the best part about it. We got to spend a lot of time together,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “It’s really good for the team. It’s a bit of a challenge getting used to the time change, but we’re well prepared for it.”
The Kings have traveled widely before to expand the NHL’s global reach and revenue. In 2007, they opened the season in London by splitting two games against the Ducks. The Kings played two regular season games in Stockholm and Berlin in 2011 and two friendlies against Vancouver in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing in 2017.
Kings president Luc Robitaille supported the trip to Melbourne from a business perspective. “I think it’s good for the game. It’s good for the NHL to go there. We need to expand,” he said.
First, the league may need to educate potential fans. “I think it’s important to make people realize that there are three periods in hockey,” Robitaille said, “because I remember the first game in Shanghai when people were leaving after the second period.”
The schedule for this trip is tolerable as the Kings stay in one city and have time to recover from jet lag before opening the season at home against Colorado on October 11th. They need to be ready when the puck drops for big games as this season is all about preparing for a strong playoff run after two straight losses to the Edmonton Oilers.
Another early exit will have no impact on coach Todd McLellan’s job prospects or a rebuilding process that is once again moving forward with the offseason move from general manager Rob Blake to Pierre-Luc DuBois. They should be formidable in the middle with Kopitar, Danault, DuBois and Buzzsaw Blake Lizotte; The defense features a solid top four with Doughty, Mikey Anderson, the physical Vladislav Gavrikov and Matt Roy. Goaltending is a big challenge for Pheonix Copley and Cam Talbot, although Talbot had his best season playing for McLellan in Edmonton.
The pressure is great this season. And that’s absolutely fair.
“We have to take the next step. That can’t be [a] “We’re almost there,” Doughty said. “We have to do it this year, there is no doubt about it. We have a very good squad.
“There is no excuse for us. It’s in the room, in the team, simply with all the players. We have to step up and make it happen. It doesn’t matter what everyone says. It’s what we think that counts.”
Danault compared the quest of the kings to climbing a mountain. “We’re almost there. But there’s still a lot to come,” he said.
Their quest to stand out from the crowd begins Down Under, where they can hope for a few happy and good days.