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.

Video: Pastrnak scores 10 seconds into game vs. Rangers

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After getting blown out on Tuesday night and having to go with a rookie goalie making his first career start in New York on Wednesday, the Boston Bruins really needed a strong start against the Rangers.

That is exactly what they got when David Pastrnak gave them an early lead just 10 seconds into the game when he capitalized on a Nick Holden giveaway.

The play all started right off the opening faceoff when Holden gave the puck away to Zdeno Chara in the neutral zone. Chara quickly moved it along to Marchand who drew both Rangers defenders leaving Pastrnak wide open for a one-on-one chance against Henrik Lundqvist.

The result: Pastrnak’s fifth goal of the season and an early 1-0 lead.

Ducks, Lindholm don’t seem to be budging on contract

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Hampus Lindholm is one of the two restricted free agents still without a contract (Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba being the other) and his absence is having a pretty big impact on the Anaheim Ducks early in the season because they clearly miss his presence on the blue line.

On Wednesday, Bob McKenzie appeared on NBCSN with Liam McHugh  and offered an update on the situation.

McKenzie reports that at this point the two sides have not really closed the gap in their current talks, with the Ducks trying to get Lindholm signed to a slighter smaller contract than the six-year, $32.4 million deal Buffalo recently gave to defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

Lindholm wants a slightly larger average annual salary because he would be giving up an additional year of unrestricted free agency than Ristolainen did.

According to McKenzie, the two sides are about $250,000 apart when it comes to yearly salary.

The 22-year-old Lindholm has 23 goals and 69 assists in 236 games over his first three seasons in the league, including 10 goals and 28 points a year ago.

In terms of salary the two sides obviously aren’t that far apart, and as McKenzie mentioned with the lines of communication still remaining open it only takes one phone call to change everything. Even with that, it still seems like it’s going to be a tough deal to complete given how long this has gone on and how close to the league’s salary cap the Ducks currently are.

That is going to be a problem for a Ducks team that has won only two of its first seven games and needs its best defenseman back on the ice.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Rangers

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 27:  Ryan Spooner #51 of the Boston Bruins scores a goal against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during the third period at TD Garden on November 27, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Rangers 4-3.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Original Six rivals face off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night when the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins.

The Rangers come into the game having won two in a row and three out of their past four, while the Bruins were blown out just 24 hours earlier at home against the Minnesota Wild.

Making matters worse for the Bruins is the fact they are also dealing with some major injury issues  having lost their top two goalies (Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin) to injury. That means they will be giving rookie Zane McIntyre his first NHL start after Malcolm Subban was benched on Tuesday.

The Bruins will also be without veteran forward David Backes.

You can catch tonight’s game (8 p.m. ET) on NBCSN or with our NHL Extra live stream.


More links to get you ready for tonight’s game

Bruins need a rookie goalie to step up

Backes undergoes elbow procedure

Rakell back skating in Anaheim, but no timetable for return

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 21, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Ducks 5-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The contract’s signed, the visa issues are sorted and he’s already taken a morning skate.

Now, all Rickard Rakell needs to do is get clearance.

Rakell, who 12 days ago signed a six-year, $22.8 million extension, was back on the ice this morning ahead of Anaheim’s game against the visiting Nashville Predators this evening.

The 23-year-old’s return was hung up by a variety of issues. First, there was the obvious one — he had no contract — and once that was signed, Rakell was in limbo awaiting his visa.

And he’s still not in the clear.

Rakell is dealing with the ramifications from offseason abdominal surgery — a procedure related to an earlier appendectomy, that kept him out of the World Cup of Hockey — and is unclear as to when he can make his season debut.

“I’m just anxious to get back and at least try,” he said, per NHL.com.

Prior to rejoining the Ducks, Rakell had been working out and skating in his native Sweden, though none of his activity included contact. That will be the next step in his progression.

Following a lengthy road trip to start the year, the Ducks are now locked into the state of California for quite some time. Tonight’s home tilt is followed by another Friday against the Jackets, followed by a “road” game in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

From there, the team plays three more times at Honda: Nov. 2 against the Penguins, Nov. 4 against the Coyotes, and No. 6 against the Flames.

So, there’s a pretty good chance Rakell’s debut will come at home.