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Hockey Weekend Across America

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
This is Hockey Weekend in America and USA Hockey has released several articles to show how much the sport has expanded in the United States.

In 2006-07, an all-time record of 202 U.S.-born players played at least one NHL game. The number of U.S.-born players nearly matched the 2006-07 total of 259 players from the "big four" European producers of hockey players -- Czech Republic (97), Russia (64), Sweden (53) and Finland (45). Only Canada produced more players for the NHL in 2006-07 (550).

U.S. players comprised 20% of the NHL player population in 2006-07 -- the highest U.S, percentage of all time. Ten years ago, when there were four fewer teams in the League, the percentage of U.S. players in the League stood at 15%.

By decades, the number of U.S. players in the NHL has grown steadily since the 1960s. The figure grew from 10 to 68 in the 1970's; from 82 to 132 in the 1980's; from 141 to 160 in the 1990's and has increased from 166 to 202 in just the past six years. It is notable that, unlike the previous four decades, when U.S. growth was aided by expansion, the current growth has taken place without the addition of new teams.

The beginning of the growth in the number and quality of U.S.-born players competing in the National Hockey League can be informally traced back almost 50 years. During the 1959-60 season, with only three American-born players playing on one of the six NHL teams (Charlie Burns, Gerry Foley and Ken Yackel), the U.S. national team won the 1960 Olympic gold medal in Squaw Valley – an improbable win that would prove to be the catalyst for youngsters to take up the sport.

The importance of the gold medal win on the growth of the game at the grassroots level was clear to then NHL President Clarence Campbell. “The trend of U.S. amateur hockey development was accentuated tremendously by the performance of the U.S. team in winning the Olympic hockey championship for the first time at Squaw Valley,” Campbell said. “This could turn out to be the most important single development if it serves to stimulate wider participation by boys in the United States to the point where they can be considered as a potential source of professional playing talent.”

The influence of 1960 could already be seen by the 1976-77 season as 40 U.S.-born players competed in the League. Over the next 30 years, buoyed by another unlikely U.S. gold-medal win in 1980 at Lake Placid, the number of Americans in the NHL would increase five-fold.

National Hockey League history was made in the 2007 Entry Draft when right wing Patrick Kane (Buffalo, New York) and left wing James vanRiemsdyk (Middletown, New Jersey) became the first U.S.-born players to be selected first and second overall in the NHL Entry Draft.

In all, 63 U.S.-born players, representing a record 30% of the total, were selected in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft this June. The previous high was 28.2%, set last year. The percentage of U.S.-born players has risen steadily since 2001. The U.S. is the only country that has experienced an annual percentage increase in players drafted during each of the past four years.

A record-tying 10 U.S.-born players were among the 30 players selected in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, matching the total from 2006.

A breakdown of 2007 Entry Draft selections by birthplace:

United States63(highest percentage in Entry Draft history - 30%)
Czech Republic5

Kane became just the sixth U.S.-born player to be selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft. The others were: Brian Lawton (1983, Minnesota), Mike Modano (1988, Minnesota), Bryan Berard (1995, Ottawa), Rick DiPietro (2000, New York Islanders) and Erik Johnson (2006, St. Louis).

Defenseman Jonathon Blum, a native of Long Beach, Calif., and member of the 2007 Memorial Cup-champion Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, became the first California-born and trained player selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. Blum, claimed by the Nashville Predators with the 23rd overall pick, played minor hockey with the California Wave before moving to the WHL.

Since 2001, 15 players have been drafted from the state of California. Only five states in the U.S. have had more: Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan and Illinois.

U.S. Hockey Fast Facts

GONE NATIONAL: From just fewer than 200,000 USA Hockey members in 1990 to almost 600,000 members today, hockey in the United States has truly gone national. USA Hockey members represent all 50 states and range in age from two to 80. They are part of 12 districts, 34 affiliate associations and approximately 3,000 local member programs.

ON THE RISE: Adult hockey reached the 100,000-member mark for the first time ever in 2006-07. The 103,533 registered adult members at season’s end represented a growth of over 36% in just the last two years.

590 TEAMS ON CAMPUS: Ice hockey is recognized as a varsity sport at 217 NCAA Division I, II and III schools that make up 23 conferences. On the non-varsity side, there are an additional 373 teams in five divisions of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

GIRLS AND WOMEN: The number of girls and women playing hockey in the United States continues to grow. USA Hockey membership in the girls’/women’s sector has more than doubled (103%) in the last 10 years to 57,549 in 2006-07.

HOCKEY IS FOR EVERYBODY: USA Hockey’s Disabled Section has four disciplines – Standing/Amputee, Sled, Special and Deaf/Hard of Hearing.

JUNIORS EVERYWHERE: Junior hockey, for those aged 20 and below, is as popular as ever in the United States, with 179 teams operating in 14 leagues around the country.

WORLD STAGE: Team USA has captured six world championships in the last four years, including a junior, a women’s, two inline and two men’s Under-18 titles. The U.S. also boasts four Olympic/Paralympic gold medals (men – ‘60 & ‘80, women – ‘98, sled – ‘02).

HOME SOIL: The number of U.S. players in the NHL has increased five-fold over the past 30 years. An all-time record of 202 U.S. players (20% of the NHL) played at least one NHL game during the 2006-07 season. In 1976-77, a total of 40 U.S. players played at least one game in the NHL.

EXTRA EXTRA: USA Hockey Magazine is the most widely circulated hockey publication in the world. It reaches over 430,000 homes and recently appeared on newsstands in the United States and Canada.

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