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.

WATCH LIVE: Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks

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[Puck drop at 10 p.m. ET, CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE]


Golden Knights

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonTomas Tatar

David PerronErik HaulaJames Neal

Ryan CarpenterCody EakinAlex Tuch

Tomas NosekPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt

Shea TheodoreDeryk Engelland

Jon MerrillColin Miller

Starting goalie: Malcolm Subban

[Golden Knights – Sharks preview]


Evander KaneJoe PavelskiMelker Karlsson

Tomas HertlLogan CoutureMikkel Boedker

Timo MeierChris TierneyKevin Labanc

Barclay GoodrowEric FehrJannik Hansen

Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun

Paul MartinBrent Burns

Brenden DillonDylan DeMelo

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Cam Ward delivers an all-time own goal (video)

Fox Sports Carolinas

We’ve seen some pretty interesting own goals throughout NHL history, and now Cam Ward has staked his claim for one of the strangest.

The Carolina Hurricanes goaltender scored on himself in one of the most bizarre plays ever seen in the NHL.

The puck, as you can see, hops into the skate of an unknowing Ward as the veteran netminder went out to play a puck that was rimmed around the boards.

Ward, does what he would normally do after trotting out behind his net, and gets back into his crease. Unsure of where the puck is, he drops into the butterfly. The problem is the puck is stuck in his right skate, which goes over the goal line.

It’s hard to explain, so let’s roll the footage:

The play-by-play man on Fox Sports Carolinas had a good point: Why wasn’t the play blown dead? Even if the ref has his eye on the puck, there was no way of Ward knowing what he was about to do.

Is there even a rule for that?

Either way, one of the strangest goals in recent memory counted in a game few were probably watching to begin with.

It’s probably safe to assume Ward (and goalies around the NHL) are going to find some way as to not let that happen again.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Red Wings’ Mike Green to have neck surgery, ending his season

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Mike Green‘s neck has done him few favors this season, and now it’s done his season in.

The All-Star defenseman will undergo cervical spine surgery and will miss the remainder of the 2017-18, the Detroit Red Wings announced on Thursday, right before the puck dropped for their game against the Washington Capitals.

Red Wings fans will recall, and likely bemoan, an earlier neck injury that prevented Green from getting dealt at the trade deadline earlier this season.

Green, 32, was hurt in a Feb. 15 matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning and missed seven games, returning on March 2 against the Winnipeg Jets. On Wednesday, he aggravated the same injury in practice.

Green has eight goals and 33 points in 66 games played.

Per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:

The procedure is scheduled for April 5 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and will be performed by Dr. Frank Cammisa. A minimum two months of recovery time is expected.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Green this summer. The aging d-man is headed to free agency this summer and what he will command is up in the air. That number, whatever it is, likely took a blow thanks to this latest revelation on Thursday.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings

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Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin / Nicklas Backstrom / Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky / Lars Eller / T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly / Travis Boyd / Jakub Vrana

Chandler Stephenson / Jay Beagle / Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny / John Carlson

Christian Djoos / Brooks Orpik

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[Capitals – Red Wings preview]

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler Bertuzzi / Henrik Zetterberg / Gustav Nyquist

Darren Helm / Dylan Larkin / Anthony Mantha

Justin Abdelkader / Frans Nielsen / Andreas Athanasiou

Evgeny Svechnikov / Luke Glendening / Martin Frk

Niklas Kronwall / Mike Green

Jonathan Ericsson / Trevor Daley

Danny DeKeyser / Nick Jensen

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard