John Gaudreau, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones

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


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, 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.

Kesler believes Ducks are ‘too good to not be in the playoffs’

Shane Doan, Ryan Kesler
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It’s been 24 games for the Anaheim Ducks, more than a quarter of the season, and still they’re having trouble winning.

Friday against Chicago, they surrendered two goals in the last two minutes of regulation and lost in overtime.

Currently, the Ducks sit five points out of a playoff spot with a record of 8-11-5.

Still, forward Ryan Kesler is confident they’ll find a way into the postseason.

“If we keep playing like we are, we’re going to get into the playoffs — this team is too good to not be in the playoffs,” Kesler told The Province ahead of tonight’s home game versus Vancouver.

“We had a bad start and, to be honest, some guys weren’t ready to start the season. There’s a lot of hockey to be played and we’re ready for the challenge.”

To match the 45-30-7 record the Flames squeaked into the playoffs with last year, the Ducks would need to go 37-19-2 over their next 58 games.




Depends who you ask.

Anaheim’s playoff chances will depend a lot on how Pacific Division teams like San Jose, Arizona, and Vancouver finish. The Ducks may need to leapfrog two of those three to get in.

Yes, there’s always the chance four teams from the Pacific qualify, because it’s not like Colorado, Winnipeg, and Minnesota don’t have their problems. Even Nashville you have to wonder about lately. Heck, even Chicago isn’t assured of anything yet.

Bottom line, though, the Ducks have dug themselves a hole, and it’s starting to look a lot like the one the Kings dug last year.

In the NHL, even good teams don’t always climb out.

Related: Boudreau does the playoff math, and it’s no ‘easy task’ for Ducks

Video: Ryan Suter doesn’t seem very happy with his coach


As you can see in the video, apparently Ryan Suter doesn’t like being paired with fellow lefty Jonas Brodin.

The Wild defenseman rather openly questioned the coaching staff’s decision-making today after practice.

“Yeah, I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said Suter. “I need to play with a right-handed defenseman. To give me more options. Neutral zone. Offensively. And even coming out of the D zone, it’s not fair to put a guy on his off side.”

Suter didn’t know if the pairings were just for practice or not. The Wild play tomorrow in Chicago. Minnesota has just one win in its last seven games.

Suter also had something to say about that.

“It does no good to pout and get pissed off at each other,” said Suter. “You’ve got to come together and dig out of this. Now’s when you need leadership more than ever. It’s easy to be a coach and a leader when things are going good.”

Yeo, by the way, has not been very happy with the Wild lately.  In fact, one could go so far as to say he’s been acting pretty “pissed off.”

For example, at today’s practice:

The Star Tribune has more on what went down today.

Yeo, you may recall, went a little “nuts” during a Wild practice last season.

Goalie nods: Sparks to make NHL debut for Leafs

Garett Sparks

We already knew this yesterday, but in case you missed it, Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight against Edmonton.

Sparks, 22, has been excellent in the AHL this season, going 8-2-1 with a .938 save percentage. He spent most of last season in the ECHL, where he also posted good numbers.

Sparks is getting the nod tonight because James Reimer is hurt and Jonathan Bernier has been struggling badly.

“He’s got an opportunity like lots of kids have had before him and it’s up to him to grab it,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, per “He’s got the [second-best] save percentage in the AHL and he’s winning all the time down there. Obviously we’re in need of some saves and we’ll have to play well in front of him for sure. But it’s an opportunity for him.”

Bernier, meanwhile, will have to sit and watch. The 27-year-old has allowed at least four goals in four of his last five starts. His save percentage has fallen all the way to .888.

Anders Nilsson will be in net for the Oilers.


Cam Ward for the Hurricanes. Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers, who will try not to rely on him so much.

Semyon Varlamov for the Avs. Thomas Greiss for the Isles.

— The Canucks aren’t saying if it’ll be Ryan Miller of Jacob Markstrom. For the Ducks, it’ll be John Gibson.

Vigneault: ‘After three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention’

Alain Vigneault

Alain Vigneault has maintained for much of the season that the New York Rangers needed to play better.

The head coach said it a week ago, after the Blueshirts had beaten the Predators, 3-0, despite getting outshot, 31-19.

He’d said it a couple of weeks before that, after they’d beaten the Hurricanes in very similar fashion. (Final score: 3-0. Shots: 33-23 for Carolina.)

But as long as the Rangers kept winning, it was tough, according to Vigneault, to get the message across.

“Sometimes, the results might be going your way, so when you’re pointing out certain things, it might be a little bit more challenging for them to understand because the results are so positive,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post.

“But after three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention.”

Derek Stepan‘s injury — he’ll miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs — has no doubt captured their attention as well. (Oscar Lindberg will center Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast tonight at home to Carolina.)

The Rangers also play Wednesday, in Brooklyn against the Islanders (on NBCSN).