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.

Pageau’s brilliant four-goal game lifts Senators to comeback OT win over Rangers

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Jean-Gabriel Pageau had himself a performance for the ages in Game 2 against the New York Rangers on Saturday.

Pageau completed the hat trick to tie the game late in the third period, forcing overtime as Ottawa roared back from a late two-goal deficit. But he wasn’t done there. His best moment was still to come.

His fourth goal of the game was the winner, as he ripped a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Henrik Lundqvist to give Ottawa a thrilling 6-5 double overtime victory.

The Senators now take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Rangers, as it shifts back to Madison Square Garden.

On the deciding two-on-one rush, Pageau opted to keep his hot streak going, taking the shot instead of going for the pass.

For the Rangers, this could be a devastating loss.

Three times, they held a two-goal lead — thanks in part to a pair of goals from defenseman Brady Skjei, who is following up a strong regular season with what has so far been a very good post-season. The Senators, however, refused to go away.

Pageau recorded a pair of late goals in the third period, just 2:17 apart, erasing for good any lead New York had.

It was, until that point, shaping up to be a disappointing result for the Senators. Their power play not only went 0-for-4, but they conceded a pair of shorthanded goals.

Senators forward Clarke MacArthur left this game early in the second period, after taking a hit from Ryan McDonagh in the first period. He didn’t return. MacArthur has dealt with concussion problems in his career, however the club didn’t disclose any details of the apparent injury during the game.

The Rangers have scored two shorthanded goals against the Senators today

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The Ottawa Senators power play is off to a brutal start on Saturday afternoon in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers.

Not only did they fail to score on their first four power play opportunities of the game, they failed to generate a single shot on goal during any of them. That is … not ideal. But that is not even the worst of it. The worst is the fact they also allowed the Rangers to score not only one, but two shorthanded goals against them.

The first one came just 4:16 into the game (on the Senators’ first power play of the game) when Michael Grabner scored his third goal of the playoffs to give the Rangers an early 1-0 lead.

You can see that goal in the video above.

The Rangers added to the struggles of the Senators’ power play in the second period when Derek Stepan scored his second goal of the playoffs increase the Rangers’ lead to 3-1.

That goal came during a wild five-minute stretch that saw the two teams combine for four goals and helped the Rangers build a 4-2 lead late in the second period.

Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania is your Kraft Hockeyville 2017 winner

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Congratulations are in order for the folks in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania after it was named the winner of the Kraft Hockeyville competition for 2017.

That means the Rostraver Ice Garden will receive $150,000 in arena upgrades and will have the opportunity to host an NHL preseason game. That game will take place on Sunday, September 24 when the St. Louis Blues take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Rostraver Ice Garden has been home to several local youth, high school and college club teams for several years. The rink had to be pretty much rebuilt in 2010 after the roof collapsed following a snow storm.

More from the NHL:

The Rostraver Ice Garden, which first opened in 1965 and hosted the Penguins training camp in the 1970s, had its roof collapse nearly seven years ago because of heavy snow. The collapse caused damage to nearly one-third of the structure and the rink has been in need of renovations ever since. After being awarded Kraft Hockeyville™ USA 2017, The Rostraver Ice Garden plans to use the prize money for a number of projects including purchasing a compressor, floor matting in the lobby, pipes and LED lighting.

“After tallying millions of votes, we’re thrilled to name Belle Vernon Kraft Hockeyville™ USA 2017,” said
Nina Barton, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Kraft Heinz. “When we brought Kraft Hockeyville to the U.S. three years ago, we set out to help improve local rinks and unite hockey communities across the country under a common interest, passion and sense of pride. Johnstown and Marquette have been excellent stewards of that purpose, and we can’t wait to see how Belle Vernon brings their new title to life.”

Belle Vernon was just one of the more than 1,300 communities across the country – accounting for nearly 73 percent of rinks nationwide – that submitted stories demonstrating their community’s passion for hockey. The runner-up, Bloomington Ice Garden, Bloomington, Minnesota will receive $75,000 to use toward arena upgrades.

The Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, Minnesota was the runner-up in this year’s competition and will receiver $75,000 in arena upgrades.

For more on this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition, click here.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 for Rangers-Senators, Penguins-Capitals

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The New York Rangers will need to find a way to slow down Erik Karlsson on Saturday afternoon if they are going to avoid falling into a 2-0 series hole against the Ottawa Senators, while the Washington Capitals will have to do the same against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both games on Saturday will be broadcast on NBC and be streamed online.

Here is all of the information you need for today’s games.

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: John Forslund, Brian Boucher

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire