Hockey seeing increased growth in Sun Belt markets

When people think about hockey in the United States, the first places they may think about could be New England or Michigan. But increasingly, it’s not the upstate New Yorks of the world that are providing the many American prospects for the NHL. Teams like the Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings have helped grow the sport in their respective markets for years.  But now, teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators are at the forefront of the impressive growth in non-traditional American markets–and the fruits of their labor are starting to take hold.

Participation throughout the United States has increased from 195,000 male and female players of all ages registered with USA Hockey in 1990-91 to 475,000 in 2009-10. Earlier this year, it registered its 100,000th player at the 8-and-younger level.

On opening night of the N.H.L. this year, and for the first time in league history, more than 20 percent of league rosters were composed of American players, representing 25 states.

According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, ice hockey is the second-fastest-growing sport in the country since 2008, behind fast-pitch softball.
And though participation has stagnated or fallen in traditional hockey areas like Michigan, Massachusetts and New York, it has skyrocketed elsewhere.

When you think about the Southeastern United States, you might not immediately think about hockey. College football probably. Maybe baseball. But probably not hockey, right?

In a report released by USA Hockey, registration is exploding in the Sun Belt. On top of the list, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida are the fastest growing states in terms of youth registration. Do you think that has anything to do with the efforts of the Hurricanes, Thrashers, Predators, and Panthers/Lightning in their communities? There’s no question their presence only helps plant the seed into children when they are playing sports during their childhood. Take those teams away and the NHL can kiss growth in non-traditional markets goodbye.

It’s easy for fans to pick on Gary Bettman for his failures—but looking at these numbers, one has to wonder if this ever would have been possible 15-20 years ago. These teams are taking hold in their communities. The fans in the area are starting to grab onto “their” teams and it’s translating into kids playing the sport we all love. Passionate hockey fans always hold onto the notion, “Just come watch one game and you’ll be hooked.”

It looks like maybe, just maybe, his vision is starting to take shape.

No mic? No problem: Oilers fans sing American, Canadian national anthems

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There was apparently an issue with a microphone used for the national anthems prior to Game 3 between the Ducks and Oilers in Edmonton.

Canadian country music star Brett Kissel was supposed to perform the anthems, however, as he stepped up to the mic, he soon discovered that there seemed to be a malfunction.

With some quick encouragement from Kissel, fans at Rogers Place stole the show with stirring renditions of both the American and Canadian national anthems.

Here is the Star Spangled Banner:

Here is O Canada:

Sami Vatanen returns to Ducks lineup vs. Oilers

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Good news for the Anaheim Ducks, who trail the Edmonton Oilers 2-0 in their second round series.

Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen returns to the lineup Sunday for Game 3 — his first game since April 13, which was the opener of Anaheim’s first-round series with Calgary, because of an upper-body injury.

However, the Ducks will be without Kevin Bieksa, who is dealing with a lower-body injury.

Predators stifle Blues to take back series lead

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The Nashville Predators have snapped their one-game funk in these Stanley Cup playoffs, taking back the series lead over the St. Louis Blues.

For long stretches of Sunday’s contest, the Predators kept the puck away from and stifled the Blues, including a stretch of almost nine minutes at the beginning of the second period in which St. Louis failed to register a shot attempt.

The Predators’ 3-1 victory in Game 3 was eventually secured on an unbelievably dominant shift late in the third period.

Joel Edmundson‘s (costly) turnover led to a dizzying attack from Predators, who had sustained puck possession inside the St. Louis zone for about 1:10.

By the end, Edmundson and Colton Parayko had exhausted themselves as the Predators tossed the puck around with increasing ease before Roman Josi halted the madness with a slap shot to the top corner, giving Nashville a two-goal lead.

That continues an impressive trend for the Predators.

They have scored nine goals in this series, with at least one defenseman contributing directly with either a goal or an assist on eight of those goals. Nashville’s group of blueliners — including Ryan Ellis, who has been on quite a productive roll throughout these playoffs — have combined for 11 points through three games in this series.

This series resumes Tuesday in Nashville, with the Predators leading 2-1.

VIDEO: Ryan Ellis continues his incredible postseason run for Predators

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Playing in Nashville over the years it has been easy for Ryan Ellis to get overlooked, always playing in the shadow of bigger name stars on the team’s blue line.

Shea Weber (before he was traded). Roman Josi. P.K. Subban.

But Ellis has been a major part of the Predators’ blue line and he had a career-year in 2016-17, setting new personal bests in goals (16) and points (38) while matching his previous career high in assists (22).

He has continued that strong play in the postseason and is currently the team’s leading scorer after he netted his third goal of the playoffs (and eighth total point) on Sunday afternoon to give the Predators a 1-0 lead over the St. Louis Blues.

You can see it in the video above.

After being held without a point in the Predators’ first playoff game, Ellis has now picked up at least one point in every playoff game since them and is now riding a six-game point streak.

The first half of Sunday’s game has been a defensive clinic by the Predators, by the way, limiting St. Louis to just 10 shots on goal through the first 34 minutes, and none through the first 14 minutes of the second period.

The Predators extended their lead to 2-0 in the second period when Cody McLeod deflected in his first goal of the playoffs to give the Predators some unexpected scoring depth. He had just five goals in 59 games during the regular season between the Predators and Colorado Avalanche.