Sunday marks the beginning of "Hockey Week Across America," a seven-day celebration of the sport presented by the USA Hockey organization. But the party started early, all the way back to last June when seven American-born prospects were selected among the first 15 picks of the 2019 NHL Draft, including Team USA 18U captain Jack Hughes at No. 1.
Nine USA players overall were picked in last June's first round. Recent drafts featured 10 or 11 U.S. players. Americans represent nearly 27 percent of all players on NHL rosters, trending up steadily from 16 percent in 2004. Youth hockey numbers have increased to new highs each of the last four springs while, importantly, retention rates among teen players has increased each of the last four seasons. At the 8-and-under level, the number of registered players (approximately 125,000) is up the last six years, with the expansion market Nevada making the biggest percentage gains. Girls registration for hockey is growing at seven time the sign-up numbers for boys. It all adds up to greater interest in the sport at all levels and in all regions.
USA Hockey deserves kudos and its annual mid-winter celebration of the sport is clearly working to a positive effect. Formerly "Hockey Day in America," USA Hockey expanded the scope to an entire week last February. This year's 13th annual event starts with three televised games on NBC and NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). The festive week particularly aims at introducing the game to new fans-we love that here at NHL Seattle. It includes daily themes to celebrate different aspects of the sport-including, good move, on-ice officials. There are special-guest TV and radio appearances that you can watch online at www.usahockey.com.
Some of those special guests will no doubt appear Sunday on NBC and NBCSN as the broadcast spans 10 hours of programming, including day-long reports and cut-ins from a Hockey Week in America host Nashville and the Bridgestone Arena plaza. Starting at 9 a.m. Pacific, fans will be able to view Pittsburgh at Detroit on NBC followed by the New York Rangers at Boston. NBCSN then airs the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on the Nashville Predators' home ice with a 3 p.m. Pacific-time puck drop. Preds fans will see their local heroes donning their 2020 Winter Classis jerseys.
NBC and NBCSN plan to highlight the diversity and growth of hockey in Nashville, Tennessee and across the country. Nashville team president and CEO Sean Henry and his staff are ready: "There are countless people and programs that have contributed to the exponential growth of hockey throughout Tennessee, so we look forward to showcasing their stories. We hope that our Hockey Day in America participation inspires new children and families to join the country's hockey family."
The Hockey Week in America program unveils in the midst of the NHL's annual Hockey is for Everyone month. The all-day NBC broadcast will emphasize the inclusivity promoted by the NHL and USA Hockey for hockey players, families and fans across all race, religion, gender, disability and socio-economic status.
NBC will treat fans to a variety of features, including the grassroots Black Girl Hockey Club fan group, U.S. Pond Hockey Championships (in its 15th year), a closer look at the Nashville Sled Preds hockey team, an informative piece about female officials and a preview of a 40th anniversary "Miracle on Ice" special featuring a conversation between sports TV personalities Mike Tirico and Al Michaels, who, called out "Do you believe in miracles?!" when the U.S. men's hockey team beat Russia at Lake Placid, N.Y. in 1980.
The "Miracle" special airs Wednesday at 8:30 Pacific and fits into the Hockey Week Across America events quite nicely. Here's a look at the daily themes, which conclude with Try Hockey Day events on Satureday. Last year's Try Hockey Day in 2019 attracted more than 12,000 children at 340 rinks across the U.S. Follow NHL Seattle on Twitter and Instagram for our daily offerings this week:
Monday: Salute to Players
Tuesday: Salute to Coaches
Wednesday: Salute to Officials
Thursday to Local Rinks
Friday: Wear Your Favorite Hockey Jersey Day
Saturday: Try Hockey Day
Feb. 23 bonus day: Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes Day