Patrick Kane

Hockey Day in America: The USNTDP gets American players off on the right foot

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The prominence of American players in the NHL is something that’s gotten the attention of the rest of the hockey-playing world. Watching the United States make the gold medal game in the 2002 and 2010 Olympic games as well as seeing the World Junior Championships team take home the gold in 2010 has served notice to the world that America is serious about hockey and things are getting better year by year.

American players don’t pop up out of nowhere though and it all starts at the grass roots level playing pee-wee, bantam, and midget hockey. From there, if players are good enough they can take part in the United States National Team Development Program. The list of players who have come through the USNTDP in Ann Arbor, Michigan is illustrious and growing by the year. Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Jimmy Howard, and Ryan Suter are among the names the USNTDP can call alumni.

The success of the USNTDP is something they’re trying to improve upon and help grow the sport in the United States. Having success stories like the players mentioned as well as others only helps increase the program’s profile.

Chris Peters, formerly of USA Hockey and currently writing at The United States of Hockey, says that what the program is doing is only helping make hockey all the more popular in the States. The USNTDP’s growth, however, came thanks to the United States not liking where they stood compared to the rest of the world.

“USA hockey had struggled so much internationally,” Peters said.  “[current Notre Dame head coach] Jeff Jackson, I think, was the coach of the junior team in in ’95 or so and said they were getting killed out here. They obviously wanted to get the best players and develop them all the same way.

“Basically what it’s done over the 15 years in its existence is that not only has it made those 40-plus players better but it’s forced everyone else to get better at what they do… Now we’re not only seeing the high-end players being very good but also the depth players as well.”

source: Getty ImagesThe growth of the program has been impressive over the years. According to USA Hockey, since 1999 there have been 30 players (PDF) drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft that have gone through the USNTDP. Three players out of the USNTDP system have been No. 1 picks in the draft in that time: Rick DiPietro (2000), Erik Johnson (2006), and Patrick Kane (2007).

In 2007, the top two picks in Kane and James van Riemsdyk were both graduates of the USNTDP program and Kane went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks over van Riemsdyk’s Flyers. While Kane is the prime example of what can happen when coming up through the USNTDP ranks, the goals the USNTDP has are set high, especially on the world stage.

“The main goal is to get those guys prepared for international hockey, their future hockey careers. That’s part of the mission statement,” Peters says. “In the last seven or eight years, every international tournament the United States plays in now they have a chance to win gold.”

Going from being a country that was an afterthought in hockey development to being a world power takes time and hard work and what the USNTDP does and where American hockey is at now shows that their commitment is paying dividends.

Flames’ Jokipakka (hip) might not play for Finns at World Cup

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Jyrki Jokipakka #3 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Jyrki Jokipakka was one of the three Finnish d-men added to the World Cup roster last week but, according to Calgary president Brian Burke, Jokipakka isn’t a lock to play this fall.

“He had hip surgery after the season, and it’s not 100 percent that he’s going to be able to compete in this tournament,” Burke told Sportsnet’s Fan 960. “But the fact he was named recognizes his accomplishments to date, and we’re very proud of [him].”

Jokipakka, acquired in the Kris Russell-to-Dallas deadline trade, appeared in 58 games last year — 18 for the Flames, 40 for the Stars. He finished with two goals and 12 points.

Still only 24 years old, Jokipakka could be a nice piece for the Flames moving forward. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and was rated highly enough to crack the Finnish roster (granted, the country isn’t overwhelmingly deep on the blueline).

So it’s understandable why the club might be wary of letting him play in the World Cup. In addition to coming off major surgery, Jokipakka is headed into the last of a two-year, $1.8 million deal with a $900,000 average annual cap hit.

Once that expires, he’ll become a restricted free agent.

‘Yep,’ Letang will play tonight

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang will play tonight. He confirmed it this morning, albeit in rather unusual circumstances.

Letang did not participate in yesterday’s Media Day at the Stanley Cup Final. He didn’t practice either. The Penguins said it was simply a “maintenance day” for their best defensemen, but when it was learned he would hold a press conference this morning, all of a sudden people started to wonder about his status for Game 1 against the Sharks.

He was asked if he was playing.

“Yep.”

So, no problems?

“Nope.”

And that was that.

No explanation was provided about yesterday, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said a few minutes later that he was confident that Letang would be able to log his usual amount of minutes.

“Very confident,” said Sullivan.

Penguins center Nick Bonino also confirmed that he’ll be able to go tonight. He didn’t skate Saturday or Sunday, but was on the ice this morning.

Former NHLer Bulis calls it a career

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 23:  Center Jan Bulis #38 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the Washington Capitals on December 23, 2005 at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. The Capitals won 4-2.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Jan Bulis, who appeared in 552 games with the Capitals, Canadiens and Canucks, announced his retirement from professional hockey today, per Czech news outlet Ceske Noviny.

Bulis, 38, last played in North America with Vancouver during the 2006-07 campaign, and has since carved out a pretty lengthy career in the KHL, playing for both Mytishchi Atlant and Chelyabinsk Traktor.

Picked 43rd overall by Washington at the 1996 draft, Bulis’ best years came with the Habs. He posted a career-high 20 goals and 40 points in 2005-06 — that year, he also represented the Czechs at the Winter Olympics in Turin (capturing bronze) and at the World Hockey Championships (capturing silver).

Report: Semin will stay in KHL for 2016-17

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 11:  Alexander Semin #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 11, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It seems there will be no NHL comeback attempt by Alex Semin. At least not in 2016-17.

Instead, Semin has inked a one-year extension with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, according to Sport-Express writer Igor Eronko.

At 32 years old, Semin still could have a lot of years left in him as a professional hockey player, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising if he has played in his last NHL game. Early in his career his talent was clear and demonstrated by some great showings offensively, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In recent years though, he wasn’t so much inconsistent as he was underwhelming.

After being limited to six goals and 19 points in 57 games with Carolina in 2014-15, the one-time 40-goal scorer was bought out of his five-year, $35 million contract just two seasons into it. Montreal took a chance on him for 2015-16, but he only appeared in 15 games with the Canadiens before they put him on unconditional waivers on Dec. 9.

He’s fared better in the KHL though, with five goals and 14 points in 20 regular season games followed by another seven markers and 15 points in 23 playoff contests.