Predators, Penguins Open Season In Japan

Archived from 2000-01 season.

NHL teams

In a bid to widen the NHL's international appeal, the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins open the season in Japan in a two-game series.

"Our league is by far the most global," Predators vice president Gerry Helper said. "Japan, that area of the world, is a very good potential market for us. It's not a sport they're unfamiliar with."

Hockey has gained popularity in Japan in recent years and the NHL sees an opportunity to expand its market. Calgary and San Jose opened the season there last year, and Anaheim and Vancouver started the 1997-98 season there.

"I just get more and more excited," Predators captain Tom Fitzgerald said. "The travel's tough, but they've done a great job preparing us. We're preparing to play the Penguins whether it's in North America or Japan."

The Penguins see the trip as good opportunity for the players to develop team spirit.

"I think it's good to get your team away early in the season," Pens' general manager Craig Patrick said. "They get to bond, get to know each other a lot better. We've got a lot of new faces this year. I think it's going to be important for them as a group to get together and be together. We don't know the Japanese language, so we're going to have to speak one of our own."

The NHL will give the teams nearly a week off to readjust when they return home. Each team gave up one home game to play in Japan, and the Predators won't play again until Oct. 13 when they play Washington in Nashville.

"It's going to be a great experience," Predators forward Randy Robitaille said. "I've never been over that way. We want to enjoy ourselves, but we want to win two hockey games."

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