More af­ter­noon games could boost NHL pop­u­lar­ity

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

Alek­sander Barkov is quick to point out the

NHL is so pop­u­lar in Fin­land that tick­ets to two games in Helsinki sold out in less than five min­utes.

“It shows how much they love the game,” the Florida Pan­thers cap­tain said. “There’s good rea­son to do that every year.”

The NHL plans just that af­ter Com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman an­nounced ini­tial plans for a 2019 sea­son opener in Prague, two reg­u­lar-sea­son games in Stock­holm and ex­hi­bi­tions in Ger­many and Switzer­land. The Pan­thers and Win­nipeg Jets played the 24th and 25th reg­u­larsea­son games out­side North Amer­ica on Thurs­day and Fri­day at packed Hart­wall Arena in the Fin­nish cap­i­tal.

As the league sows seeds of in­ter­est in new mar­kets like China, it also con­tin­ues to cul­ti­vate in­ter­est in es­tab­lished hockey coun­tries such as Swe­den, Fin­land and the Czech Repub­lic. There’s a mod­est pro­posal for con­tin­u­ing to stoke the in­ter­est in the sport in Scan­di­navia and across Europe.

“One thing that I know for­mer play­ers have been talk­ing about is maybe more games ear­lier on the week­ends so they can ac­tu­ally watch,” said Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals cen­ter Nick­las Back­strom, who is Swedish.

Goalie signs $10 mil­lion deal: The Nash­ville Preda­tors signed goal­tender Pekka Rinne to a two-year con­tract ex­ten­sion worth $10 mil­lion, keep­ing the Vez­ina Tro­phy win­ner un­der con­tract through 2020-21.

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