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USA Hockey hopes for boost from signature day

by Dan Rosen
Hockey fans across the United States will get the royal treatment from NBC on Sunday with the network scheduled to televise three regional games and one national game while interspersing numerous grassroots hockey stories during six hours of afternoon coverage.

USA Hockey expects to reap huge benefits from NBC's unprecedented exposure for Hockey Day in America presented by McDonald's.

"NBC's relationship with the National Hockey League is to our benefit to such a great degree," USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean told Wednesday. "What NBC is going to do this weekend specifically in focusing on hockey in all of its forms across the United States on Sunday is just going to be invaluable. It's a great spotlight on our game and a great culmination to our Hockey Weekend Across America celebration."

Ogrean hopes the coverage draws particularly strong ratings in the southern markets such as Atlanta, Florida, Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas, California and the Carolinas. The teams from those areas are all off Sunday, but the televisions should be on because more and more of the "non-traditional" hockey population is picking up the game in massive numbers.

"With all due respect to the die-hard hockey fans of Quebec City and Winnipeg and other places that would love to have an NHL team and hopefully will someday, to have the NHL in Atlanta, in Raleigh, in Dallas, in Phoenix is so important and we've seen the growth of hockey at the grassroots level in those cities," Ogrean said. "We've seen the development of rinks and now we are seeing players from some very non-traditional states that are populating not only the rosters of our national teams but even the NHL this season."

As of Wednesday, 196 Americans had played in at least one game in the NHL this season. That's a better than 30 percent increase in American NHLers from 10 years ago.

Traditional hockey states such as Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin continue to produce NHL players, but now we're also seeing an influx of talent from California, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut, Illinois and even Indiana, Texas and North Carolina.

The 2010 U.S. Olympic team had 23 players from 10 different states.

"There are players from 25 different states on NHL rosters," Ogrean said.

The massive re-interest in hockey across Illinois is another point that Ogrean believes can't be undersold. The Blackhawks return to prominence has been a boon to USA Hockey because it has brought the love of the sport back to a large, cold-weather market that has deep hockey roots.

The Blackhawks will host NBC's featured national game Sunday against Pittsburgh, and NBC's pre-game telecast will be live from Millennium Park in Chicago.

"It's been great for the United States to have the Blackhawks succeed," Ogrean said. "With Detroit and Boston, this just all helps us. Those are our really deeply embedded hockey markets and it puts hockey in the spotlight, on the front of the sports section, the lead of the sports segment on the news. It's just great for promoting the sport and getting people to play."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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