Hockey Day in America: USA Hockey’s growth taking off in unexpected places

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Today is Hockey Day in America, an all-day celebration of the sport throughout the United States. NBC will air nine hours of live coverage across its networks; here at PHT, we’re taking a look at stories of hockey’s impact across the country.

The U.S. hasn’t always been a world force when it comes to hockey, but these days it very much is.

Following Team USA’s second World Junior Championship win in four years, hockey is becoming a big deal in the States, thanks in large part to youngsters taking a shine to the game.

Over the past few years, USA Hockey has seen the growth of hockey in the country grow dramatically. Enrollment numbers have more than doubled since 1991-92, from just over 230,000 in that year to over 550,000 in 2011-12. When you factor in rising numbers of coaches and officials, the number of people actively participating in hockey is huge.

USA Hockey has come a long way in a short period of time, and we’re seeing that at the NHL level. When you turn back the clock to 1987-88 season, there were only 118 Americans having played at least one game in the league.

Now that number has more than doubled to 237 players.

Add in the fact that there are more NHL teams playing in the U.S. now than back then, and you’ve got a good explanation as to why the United States has become a force at the senior international level.

Much of it started at USA Hockey headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. and Ann Arbor, Mich. As Mike Modano tells Mike Morreale of NHL.com, changing the world’s view of American hockey has been going on since the 80s.

“That perception they had about us … we were so young at the time that we wanted to change that perception. It was almost like the Europeans didn’t think we belonged on their level. We always wanted to prove to other countries that we could play with anyone.”

When it comes to the USA, you usually think of colder climate areas as the hockey hotbeds. But in recent years, non-traditional markets have become booming places for the game. As Chris Peters of United States of Hockey shared, growth in the Sun Belt states has been substantial.

California, for example, has seen enrollment rise 322 percent between 1990-91 and 2010-11. You only need to look at guys like California native Emerson Etem, a first-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2011, to see how well things are working. In 2010, Beau Bennett became the highest-drafted California-born player ever when Pittsburgh selected him 20th overall.

The same can be said of Florida (804 percent growth) and Atlanta, GA (478 percent). Sure the Thrashers are gone, but the Lightning and Panthers are still going strong and helping spur interest in the game.

Those benefits are paying off with prospects coming from all corners of the country.

As an example, look where many players from this year’s gold medal-winning WJC team came from. Seth Jones, who could possibly be the No. 1 overall pick in 2013, is from Texas. Rocco Grimaldi is from California, and Shayne Gostisbehere is from Florida.

It speaks to how wide-ranging the game has become, which can only mean good things for the United States heading into the future.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs second-round schedule

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Time to get your ducks in a row (Anaheim or otherwise), as the second-round schedule has been released.

As you can see, the West series begin on Wednesday while the East ones kick into gear on Thursday. Read up on the matchups here.

For the sixth consecutive year, every Stanley Cup playoff game will be presented nationally across the platforms of NBC Sports Group and select NBCUniversal networks.

(Games listed by date, start time, teams and network.)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Date TIME (ET) #1 Washington vs. #2 Pittsburgh Networks
Thursday, April 27 7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at Washington NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 29 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Washington NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, May 1 7:30 p.m. Washington at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 3 7:30 p.m. Washington at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 6 TBD Pittsburgh at Washington TBD
*Monday, May 8 TBD Washington at Pittsburgh TBD
*Wednesday, May 10 TBD Pittsburgh at Washington TBD

Date TIME (ET) #2 Ottawa vs. #4 NY Rangers Networks
Thursday, April 27 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Ottawa CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 29 3 p.m. NY Rangers at Ottawa NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 2 7 p.m. Ottawa at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Thursday, May 4 7:30 p.m. Ottawa at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 6 TBD NY Rangers at Ottawa TBD
*Tuesday, May 9 TBD Ottawa at NY Rangers TBD
*Thursday, May 11 TBD NY Rangers at Ottawa TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Date TIME (ET) #1 Anaheim vs. #2 Edmonton Networks
Wednesday, April 26 10:30 p.m. Edmonton at Anaheim NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Friday, April 28 10:30 p.m. Edmonton at Anaheim NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 30 7 p.m. Anaheim at Edmonton NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 3 10 p.m. Anaheim at Edmonton NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 5 TBD Edmonton at Anaheim TBD
*Sunday, May 7 TBD Anaheim at Edmonton TBD
*Wednesday, May 10 TBD Edmonton at Anaheim TBD

Date TIME (ET) #3 St. Louis vs. #4 Nashville Networks
Wednesday, April 26 8 p.m. Nashville at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, April 28 8 p.m. Nashville at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 30 3 p.m. St. Louis at Nashville NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 2 9:30 p.m. St. Louis at Nashville NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 5 TBD Nashville at St. Louis TBD
*Sunday, May 7 TBD St. Louis at Nashville TBD
*Tuesday, May 9 TBD Nashville at St. Louis TBD

Starting time and national broadcast information for games listed TBD will be announced when available.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second-round matchups

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Want to know when and how to watch each game? Check out the second-round schedule here.

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington really had to sweat it against Toronto, but while the journey took more twists and turns than expected, both juggernauts ended up in a position to justify their statuses as favorites.

During the Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby runs for the franchises, the Penguins won both second-round series (first in 2009 and then last year). In each case, Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Will the Capitals finally break through in what might be their best chance ever? There isn’t a better way for them to truly prove their mettle than to do so against a Penguins team that looks dangerous, even with key injuries to consider.

Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers

Both teams beat higher seeds in the first round, surprising at least some. There are some fun storylines here, from a clash of two star Swedes (Erik Karlsson vs. Henrik Lundqvist) to fun trade talk involving Mika Zibanejad and Derick Brassard.

On paper, these teams aren’t as linked as the other East series, but playoff glory can make franchises become hated rivals in little time.

Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

So much orange. So many goals?

With the Blackhawks, Kings, Wild and Sharks out, the Ducks get home-ice in the West and probably rank as the most familiar contender in a conference that seems heavy on “new blood.” Then again, they’re still driven by a red-hot Ryan Getzlaf, but this isn’t the same Anaheim squad as the last time they made a longer run.

Speaking of new blood, it’s unavoidable to describe the Oilers any other way. Edmonton hopes to keep its first playoff run in more than a decade going, and this series might actually be a better showcase for Connor McDavid than those tighter games vs. the Sharks.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Is there a matchup of goalies on hotter streaks right now than Jake Allen vs. Pekka Rinne? These “underdogs” held the top teams in the Central Division to one playoff victory combined.

While there are plenty of carryover characters from previous postseason editions of the Blues (Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen) and the Predators (Roman Josi), there’s also a new Blues coach in Mike Yeo and newly featured Nashville pieces such as P.K. Subban.

Which team will go deeper than many outside of their locker room expected? We’ll find out.

Capitals close out Maple Leafs after one last OT classic

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The Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t grab the torch from the Washington Capitals in this series, but they put up a tremendous struggle.

Auston Matthews continued to make an impression with a goal in his fourth consecutive game, yet it wasn’t enough to send this scintillating series to a Game 7. Instead, Marcus Johansson collected tying and game-winning goals, leading Washington to a 2-1 OT win to take the series 4-2.

Here is video of the tally that ended Toronto’s season:

While the Capitals taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins is “expected,” the path to get there wasn’t as many drew it up. Toronto gave Washington all it can handle in a series that tied a record with five trips beyond regulation.

The Maple Leafs can take heart in pushing the play for large spans of the series, although there have also been spans where it felt like the Caps found that extra gear.

Toronto fans who’ve been longing for a return to playoff glory must be experiencing mixed feelings. This young bunch achieved more than just about anyone expected, particularly in this series against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. That might be why it burns, though; Buds fans deal with the bitter feeling of so close.

Then again, the Capitals know all about that. They hope to avoid repeating such history in this huge opportunity. Perhaps facing a far tougher-than-expected challenge to start things off might be a blessing in disguise?

Capitals’ Schmidt hurt by Leafs’ Komarov; Record 18th playoff game to OT

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Now, players are known to at least try to return to games after injuries, sometimes ultimately leaving such efforts unsuccessful.

So, it’s possible that the Washington Capitals should still be concerned about defenseman Nate Schmidt. The solid depth blueliner was helped off the ice after a hit by Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the good news is that he was at least able to make his way back for a spin later on in the same third period.

Does that mean he’ll be OK? We’ll see. The game is entering OT – the 18th of this round, a new NHL record – so a possible Schmidt injury could put Washington at a disadvantage during “free hockey.”

It makes sense that Toronto and Washington made it a new record, as this is the fifth time in six games that they beyond regulation in this series. Wow.