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Guentzel proud to face Rangers with Penguins on Hockey Day in America

Forward feels event keeps game growing in nontraditional markets

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Jake Guentzel gets excited when discussing how widespread the roots of his sport are spreading in non-traditional United States hockey markets.

The Pittsburgh Penguins forward points to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere as prime examples. Matthews was born in California and grew up in Phoenix; Gostisbehere is a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla.

"I think it's only going to help the game grow when you have guys coming into the League from different areas," Guentzel said. "More and more states are producing players, and that's a big influence. 

"When you are a kid growing up and you see players from your state and areas making it to the NHL, especially when it's not known as a hockey town, it inspires you that maybe you can do it too and maybe it'll make you want to play. These days there are superstars from everywhere. To have those guys and what they mean to the states and communities that people live in, it's good for the game.

"I think Hockey Day in America is a great way to spread the message of the sport to all those markets."

Video: CGY@PIT: Guentzel bags terrific redirection in front

Guentzel and Gostisbehere are two of the prominent U.S.-born players who will be on display as part of an NBC triple-header during Hockey Day in America on Sunday.

The New York Rangers visit Guentzel and the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS) followed by the St. Louis Blues taking on the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN). Gostisbehere and the Flyers visit the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena (6 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV).

"Hockey Day in America continues to get bigger and bigger and I think it just shows how much USA Hockey is growing," Guentzel said. "I think it's good to get it out there and for maybe kids, their parents to see it that hockey's a fun deal and kids want to be a part of it."

Guentzel was born in Omaha, Nebraska and moved to Woodbury, Minnesota when he was 6 months old. He spent the majority of his youth in hockey-crazed Minnesota before returning to Omaha to play for the University of Nebraska-Omaha from 2013-16.

"Hockey in Minnesota is unbelievable," Guentzel said. "It's huge. Everyone wants to grow up to be a hockey player. You see it all the time; guys playing on outdoor ponds. So when you get there and you're at the state high school hockey championships, it means so much. I think that's your dream growing up; to play in that. I was fortunate to play one time in the state tournament. That was pretty cool to play in front of thousands of people at a young age."

Guentzel scored his team-leading 28th goal in the Penguins' 5-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday. Pittsburgh will look for redemption against the Rangers on Sunday.

"Every game at this time of the season is so big," he said. "Every point matters."

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