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.

Ovechkin scored the winner against the Panthers, as the Capitals continued to roll

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), from Russia, celebrates his goal as center Marcus Johansson (90), from Sweden, comes to join him in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders, Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) The Washington Capitals are off to a fast start.

Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period Thursday night to lift the Capitals over the Florida Panthers 4-2.

Ovechkin put the Capitals ahead 3-2 with 12:27 left in the third. His one-timer from the point got past Roberto Luongo, who was screened on the play.

The Capitals have earned at least a point in each of their four games.

“At the start of the season, it’s almost always important to take points,” Ovechkin said. “We didn’t lose the game and it’s a good sign. We just have to continue to collect the points and move forward.”

Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams scored for the Capitals. Matt Niskanen recorded two assists and Braden Holtby made 26 saves.

“In the third, (we) responded really well and I thought in the third period they (Panthers) really didn’t have much,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “They had one or two chances, but not much. We had the majority of them.”

Jaromir Jagr became the third player to score 750 goals. He is in third place all-time in the NHL, behind only Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801). Michael Matheson also scored for the Panthers. Jagr’s goal was his first in 10 games, including one last season, six playoff games last season, and three this season.

“It’s always good to get the first one. A good play, a good pass, I was wide open in the slot,” Jagr said. “I had a lot of chances in the games before but I couldn’t put the puck in. I’m glad I did tonight.”

Luongo made 25 stops for the Panthers, who lost their second straight.

The Capitals surged in the third period with two goals on 13 shots. Johannson stretched the lead to 4-2 with an unassisted goal with 1:20 left.

“In the third we sat back a little bit or they pushed back a little bit.” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “They took the chances to us. That third goal was sort of lucky, a bouncing puck from the blue line and changed direction. Tough to lose like that.”

Jagr’s power-play goal tied the game at 2 with 5:50 left in the second. Jagr took a pass in the slot from Aleksander Barkov from behind the goal line and beat Holtby. The power-play goal was the first in 11 opportunities for the Panthers this season.

The Panthers had an apparent power-play goal at 7:47 of the second waved off. Colton Sceviour swept in a loose puck sitting to the left of the crease but an early whistle killed the play.

“He (referee) said he wasn’t in position and thought the puck was covered. He made a mistake,” Gallant said.

Trailing 2-0, the Panthers closed to 2-1 on Matheson’s shot from the sideboards that snuck past Holtby on the stick side with 6:13 left in the first. The goal was Matheson’s second in two games.

The Capitals scored two goals less than two minutes apart in the first period. Williams took a pass from Nate Schmidt in front and poked in the puck on his second try to make it 1-0 at 8:25. The goal was Williams 250th in the NHL.

Washington stretched its lead to 2-0 when Kuznetsov deflected a shot from the point under Luongo’s glove at 10:21.

Stars’ Sharp out with concussion symptoms following controversial OT loss to Kings

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The Dallas Stars lost to the L.A. Kings on Thursday, and they could also lose forward Patrick Sharp for a period of time to injury, too.

Sharp left the game with concussion symptoms, as per the Stars. He didn’t return. The 34-year-old forward was on the receiving end of a big hit along the boards from Brayden McNabb early in the second period and was put through concussion protocol.

As per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, Sharp will be out for “a while,” according to head coach Lindy Ruff, who is already dealing with a host of injury problems up front. Stars forward Patrick Eaves also left the game with a lower-body injury and didn’t return.

The Stars lost 4-3 in overtime, as the Kings recorded their first win of the season, although the eventual winning goal was reviewed for possible goalie interference.

From the NHL:

At 1:20 of overtime in the Kings/Stars game, the Situation Room initiated a review under the terms of a Coach’s Challenge to review whether a Los Angeles player interfered with Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen prior to Alec Martinez‘s goal.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line.

Therefore the original call stands – good goal Los Angeles Kings.

Of course, Ruff didn’t agree with the league’s ruling on the play.

Welcome back: Patrice Bergeron leads Bruins to victory in return from injury

Patrice Bergeron
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BOSTON (AP) Patrice Bergeron scored the tiebreaking goal with 75 seconds left in his season debut to give the Boston Bruins a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.

After missing the first three games with an unspecified injury, Bergeron returned to practice on Wednesday and took regular shifts in the home opener against New Jersey. He was on the ice when linemate Brad Marchand tied it 1-all with just under 10 minutes left in regulation, and he was there again to slide in the game-winner at the end.

Tuukka Rask had 28 saves for the Bruins, who fought off a power play for the last 50 seconds without allowing a shot.

Kyle Palmieri scored for the Devils, and Cory Schneider stopped 34 shots.

The game remained scoreless until Palmieri scored a power-play goal about four minutes into the third period. But Marchand tied it with just under 10 minutes left in regulation – his third goal and eighth point in four games this season.

Without Bergeron, the Bruins moved David Backes from right wing to center between Marchand and David Pastrnak. They combined for 16 points in the Bruins’ first three games.

The ceremonial first puck was dropped by 98-year-old former Bruins captain Milt Schmidt, with help from Bobby Orr. It was the 80th and 50th anniversaries, respectively, of their rookie seasons. They each went on to win the Stanley Cup twice, have their numbers retired in Boston and earn induction in the Hall of Fame.

Taylor Hall missed an open net early in the third after drawing a penalty that led to the Devils goal. Palmieri delivered early in the power play, shooting it under the bent knee of defender Brandon Carlo and through the legs of the screened goaltender.

Carey on: Price is victorious in long-awaited return to Habs crease

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price stops a shot during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in New York  (AP Photo/Paul Bereswill)
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Al Montoya had done a nice job in net, filling in the previous three games for the Montreal Canadiens.

But on Thursday, Carey Price made his long-awaited season debut for the Habs.

A knee injury that ended his 2015-16 season for good following a Nov. 25 start, and a flu to begin this season had, for far too long, kept him out of the Montreal lineup, which desperately needed their star goalie, especially as the Canadiens faltered last season.

In his return against the Arizona Coyotes, he delivered a solid performance in net, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given what he was able to do for Canada at the World Cup.

Against the Coyotes, he made 27 saves, as the Canadiens took over in the second period and went on to a 5-2 victory. Shea Weber scored his first goal as a member of the Canadiens, deploying his booming slap shot on the power play.

But the night should belong to Price.

This has been a long time coming for Price, the Habs and their fans, who watched with frustration as Montreal’s terrific start to last season faded with Price injured.

He gave up two goals in the second period, and that was it. Coyotes rookie defenseman Jakob Chychrun scored his first NHL goal, but Arizona never really got too close.

By then, the Habs were in control. And with Price as their goalie, just about every lead can feel like a comfortable one when he’s at the top of his game.

The Canadiens improved their record to 3-0-1. Another good start. A healthy Price gives them the best shot at sustaining it.