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NHL eyes more matches against European club team in future

ZURICH, Switzerland - The NHL and hockey's world governing body said Monday they want to stage more matches between North American and European club teams.

The two sides have agreed to create a working group that will explore ways of building on the success of the first Victoria Cup last month, which saw the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) bring the New York Rangers to play European champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk of Russia in a million-dollar match in the Swiss capital Bern.

Gary Bettman, the NHL's commissioner, said he was intrigued by the new IIHF-organized Champions Hockey League (CHL), which features 12 teams competing over five months in round-robin groups and a knockout stage to be crowned Europe's top club.

"We believe the format and infrastructure that have been established are very good for the growth of hockey," Bettman said in a statement.

The NHL is offering to share its management and marketing expertise to help the competition develop after the first season ends in January.

"A marketing alliance between the NHL and the Champions Hockey League has a potential to develop into something very substantial," IIHF president Rene Fasel said.

The governing body also hopes the CHL competition will raise European standards and help persuade young players to spend more time building skills with their home club before seeking a glamourous move to the United States or Canada.

The IIHF's vision for the Victoria Cup is to have the NHL's Stanley Cup winner meet the European champion club each fall for an unofficial world title match.

However, planning deadlines for the inaugural match meant New York was confirmed as the NHL representative during the first half of its season last December.

The Rangers earned a US$1-million by beating Magnitogorsk 4-3 in an Oct. 1 game. The team then travelled to the Czech capital Prague for a two-match series with the Tampa Bay Lightning that opened the NHL regular season in a move aimed at helping build the league's fan base in Europe.

No date or venue has been set for the new working group to meet.

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