John Gaudreau, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones

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.

Avalanche captain Landeskog (lower-body injury) could make upcoming road trip

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. the Ducks defeated the Avalanche 5-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Placed on injured reserve earlier this week, Gabriel Landeskog may be close to returning to the Colorado Avalanche lineup.

Out with a lower-body injury for the past eight games, including tonight’s home contest against the Dallas Stars, Landeskog reportedly skated briefly with his teammates on Saturday. Head coach Jared Bednar provided more reason for optimism on the condition of the Colorado captain when he spoke to the media.

“He’s been working in the gym the last couple of days,” Bednar told the Denver Post.

“He’s been progressing. He feels better again today. He skated slightly on his own there for a few minutes, and that seemed to go well. I’ve already talked to (trainer Matt Sokolowski) about that. I would expect he’s a guy who’s going to continue to move forward here and probably be on the road trip with us.”

The Avalanche could certainly use their leader in the lineup.

They sit tied for last in the West with the Arizona Coyotes and Bednar, earlier this week, ripped his team for a lack of intensity following a 5-3 loss to Nashville on Tuesday.

The Avalanche begin a four-game road trip on Tuesday, as they face the Predators.

The Predators coughed up a three-goal lead in OT loss to Devils

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 14:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators stretches during a timeout against the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena on October 14, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Michael Cammalleri‘s second goal of the game with 18 seconds remaining on the clock in overtime capped New Jersey’s comeback from three goals down in the third period and gave the Devils a 5-4 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Taylor Hall took a pass from Cammalleri and brought the puck up the right side into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 break, passed it back to Cammalleri cutting up the middle and he fired it past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

Cammalleri started the Devils’ comeback from a 4-1 deficit after two as he fired a rebound into an open net 25 seconds into the third.

Andy Greene pulled New Jersey within one 30 seconds later and Adam Henrique tied it with a power-play goal through Rinne’s legs with 7:23 remaining.

Hall had a goal and two assists, Travis Zajac also had two assists and Green added one for the Devils, who were 0-4-2 in their previous six road games. Keith Kincaid stopped 38 shots to improve to 3-1-2.

Kevin Fiala had two goals and P.K. Subban and Roman Josi also scored for the Predators, who fell to 9-1-2 at home. Rinne, a five-time All-Star, gave up five goals on 22 shots.

New Jersey evened its record to 6-6 in games beyond regulation, and Nashville fell to 0-4.

Fiala gave the Predators a 1-0 lead when Matt Irwin‘s point shot appeared to bounce off him into the net with 3:46 left in the first.

Hall tied it 1:17 later when he swatted a rebound out of the air past Rinne.

Nashville went back ahead on Subban’s wrist shot from the slot with 39 seconds left in the opening period. Five of Subban’s six goals have come at home.

Fiala’s second goal increased the Predators lead to 3-1 on a tic-tac-toe play from Craig Smith and Mike Ribeiro at 6:02 of the second period.

Josi extended the Predators’ advantage to 4-1 when he blasted a one-timer from just inside the center of blue line past Kinkaid with 5:29 left in the second.

Oilers lose Nurse for the ‘long term’ with a lower-body injury

Edmonton Oilers v Arizona Coyotes
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Tough news for the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

The Oilers have lost sophomore defenseman Darnell Nurse for the ‘long term’ with a lower-body injury, coach Todd McLellan told reporters. In 25 games this season, the 21-year-old Nurse has three goals and five points.

Another update is expected at a later time from general manager Peter Chiarelli, although it was speculated in the Edmonton Sun that the injury could be a broken foot. McLellan said the injury occurred against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

From the Edmonton Sun:

With Nurse going on injured reserve, Mark Fayne, who was on waivers a week ago but was recalled when Eric Gryba was hurt in practice, will play his first game since injuring his knee against Carolina Oct. 18. He only played 2:27 in that game. Fayne will likely play with Oscar Klefbom. Matt Benning will be with Andrej Sekera.

The Oilers also recalled defenceman Dillon Simpson from the Bakersfield Condors as a seventh guy. Brandon Davidson (shoulder) is skating and practising but is a week to 10 days from playing. He could find his way into the top six when deemed ready, too.

The Oilers host the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. These two teams are tied with 28 points in the Pacific Division. The winner tonight takes over sole possession of second in the division.

Will the bad blood between the Canucks and Maple Leafs spill over into tonight’s rematch?

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There will be plenty to keep an eye on tonight when the Vancouver Canucks host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

— There are the extra curricular activities:

Tempers boiled over in the last meeting on Nov. 5. It started when Toronto forward Nazem Kadri delivered a controversial hit to Daniel Sedin, resulting in a fight between Kadri and Jannik Hansen.

There was no suspension to Kadri, which obviously disappointed the Canucks.

Alex Burrows speared Morgan Rielly.

That third period turned into a throwback to a much grittier era in hockey, with Derek Dorsett fighting Leo Komarov and then Matt Martin grabbing rookie blue liner Troy Stecher in the corner, prompting goalie Ryan Miller to leave his crease and grab Martin, resulting in a heated skirmish. The two teams combined for 171 penalty minutes that night.

Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson also made a threat to Martin once the game was over. His words were overheard by reporters.

It’s no surprise the league and its department of player safety is paying extra attention to this game.

“It was wrong,” Gudbranson told the Vancouver Sun. “But the number of times I’ve said that (on the ice) is probably higher than most would expect. But do I mean it? No. That’s the honest truth. No, I’m not going to kill the guy. That’s insanity. I was just frustrated at that point, and unfortunately it got taken to a level that I didn’t expect.”

— Two teams with apparently different philosophies of how to build a winning team:

The Maple Leafs are in a rebuild. And while the consistency hasn’t been there this season, they’ve proven on a number of occasions to be an exciting team with a very talented, promising crop of young players.

Auston Matthews is the face of this rebuild.

The Canucks, meanwhile, don’t seem to want to venture down the path of an aggressive rebuild. Did we mention they sit 28th in the overall standings? Did we mention they’ve had difficulty scoring? They’re 29th in that category. Did we mention they’ve had their struggles in goal? They have the 29th-ranked save percentage at five-on-five.

Canucks president Trevor Linden discussed the notion of a rebuild in a wide-ranging interview with Sportsnet, but it still appears the Canucks aren’t in favor of such a drastic step.

“What people fail to realize is the older group of players we had here—the Garrisons and Keslers and Bieksas and Higgins and Hamhuises—which are no longer with us, these are good people. These are leaders. Perhaps in Toronto that wasn’t the case,” said Linden.

“We have Daniel and Henrik Sedin here, who are very important to this organization and icons in the city. They’re not going anywhere. I don’t know how I walk into the room and tell these guys, “Strip it down.” I’m not sure it’s fair to these guys. There’s different circumstances, be it in Toronto or Carolina or Vancouver, that require different routes. It’s not perfect, but I’m encouraged by the young players we’ve introduced, and we’ve got some young prospects.”

Indeed, plenty to keep an eye on between these two teams tonight. Plenty to debate, too.