Teddy Purcell

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.

Tank you very much: Leafs win NHL Draft Lottery, retain No. 1 overall pick

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone from worst to first.

The Leafs finished dead last in the NHL’s overall standings, giving them the best odds of winning Saturday’s draft lottery. And when the big show ended, Toronto had landed that top pick for the draft on June 24.

Outside of Toronto, the biggest winner Saturday had to be the Winnipeg Jets. They entered the day with the sixth best odds of getting the top pick at just 7.5 per cent. They were able to move all the way up to the second overall pick, which could certainly land them a franchise player and one that could definitely be ready to make the jump into the NHL next season.

The biggest loser? You could definitely argue it was the Vancouver Canucks. They finished 28th in the overall standings, giving them an 11.5 per cent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. But they fell all the way to fifth.

The Edmonton Oilers? Well, they didn’t win. Had they won the lottery, it would’ve given them the first overall pick for the fifth time in seven years.

Here is the 2016 draft order:

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs
  2. Winnipeg Jets
  3. Columbus Blue Jackets
  4. Edmonton Oilers
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Calgary Flames
  7. Arizona Coyotes
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Montreal Canadiens
  10. Colorado Avalanche
  11. New Jersey Devils
  12. Ottawa Senators
  13. Carolina Hurricanes
  14. Boston Bruins

Now that the order is set, who will go No. 1, 2 and 3 in that opening round?

Auston Matthews has long held the title as the top-ranked player heading into this draft. But there’s been increasing chatter that Finnish winger Patrik Laine has at least closed the gap between him and Matthews for that first overall selection, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.

Meanwhile, fellow Finnish forward Jesse Puljujärvi likely rounds out the top three, following a sensational showing at the 2016 World Junior Championships.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins at Capitals, Game 2, plus NHL Draft Lottery

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, right, goes up against Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, left, during the second period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday, April 28, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to even up their second-round series with the Washington Capitals with a win on the road Saturday at Verizon Center. You can catch Game 2 between these rivals on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links for both Game 2 between the Penguins and Capitals, and the draft lottery:

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Wilson fined for kneeing Sheary

Everything you need to know about the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery

Gather your lucky charms, 2016 NHL Draft Lottery is tonight

Burke: Once a team picks first overall, no more drafting first overall (for a few years at least)

Lightning strikes: Bolts even series with Islanders

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Tyler Johnson began the playoffs as a game-time decision for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their series with the Detroit Red Wings. He’s now among the top point producers this post-season.

Needing a win to even the series before it shifts north to Brooklyn, the Lightning earned a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon. Series tied, 1-1. As for Johnson, the diminutive but skilled forward, he led the Bolts with a three-point night and is up to 10 points in the playoffs.

He opened the scoring versus the Islanders and finished it with an empty-netter to negate any late comeback attempt.

Still without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning got another strong game from Jonathan Drouin, who entered this series without a goal. But he changed that, giving the host team a two-goal lead in the opening period of Game 2. That goal would be the eventual winner.

Corey Perry: ‘I take a lot of blame for what happened’ after Ducks bounced in first round

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 11:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks watch from the bench during the first period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on April 11, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After a first-round playoff loss that resulted in the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, players were forced to answer for such a disappointing end to the Anaheim Ducks’ season.

The Ducks were last in the West at the holiday break but went flying up the standings in the second half of the season, claiming the Pacific Division. But they couldn’t close out the Nashville Predators in the opening round, despite a 3-2 series lead, and Boudreau was sent packing.

Ducks GM Bob Murray then let the players have it, blasting the core group and their performance, especially in the first two games of the series, and strongly suggesting there would be some big changes in Anaheim leading up to next season.

“I take a lot of blame for what happened,” said Corey Perry, as per the Ducks’ website. “I didn’t score a goal. I take a lot of responsibility. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform.”

In seven games, the 30-year-old Perry, who just concluded the third year of an eight-year contract with a cap hit of $8.625 million, had four assists. But, as he said, no goals.

On Boudreau’s dismissal, Perry added: “He did a lot for my game. It’s tough when you know the reason somebody got fired is because we as a team and as individuals didn’t perform to where we needed to perform, and that’s the hardest thing. You lose four Game 7s at home, and he has nothing really do with what we did on the ice. We’re performing, we’re playing and we have to hold ourselves accountable. And I think a lot of guys are doing that.”