Hockey Day In America is turning the focus on the roots of the game in America as well as the fans and support that Americans give to the game. We’ve seen pond hockey show the game at it’s most basic roots, we’ve seen community leaders bring the game to the people as a means to help the kids out, and there’s another area of the game that flies under the radar to a degree in America. College hockey in the United States has played a huge role in helping build the talent pool in the NHL as well as making the game more popular across the country.
Take a look around at the rosters of the teams playing in each of the games during Hockey Day In America and you’ll find a team that’s well represented by guys who spent some or all their time in the NCAA honing their skills before reaching the NHL.
Washington: David Steckel (Ohio St.), Mike Knuble (Michigan), Matt Hendricks (St. Cloud State), Tom Poti (Boston U.)
Buffalo: Mike Grier (Boston U.), Nathan Gerbe (Boston College), Jordan Leopold (Minnesota), Drew Stafford (North Dakota), Thomas Vanek (Minnesota), Chris Butler (U of Denver)
Philadelphia: James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire), Andreas Nodl (St. Cloud State), Darroll Powe (Princeton), Matt Carle (U of Denver)
New York Rangers: Brian Boyle (Boston College), Derek Stepan (Wisconsin), Matt Gilroy (Boston U.), Ryan McDonagh (Wisconsin)
Detroit: Justin Abdelkader (Michigan St.) Drew Miller (Michigan St.), Patrick Eaves (Boston College), Brian Rafalski (Wisconsin), Jimmy Howard (Maine)
Minnesota: Matt Cullen (St. Cloud State), Chuck Kobasew (Boston College), John Madden (Michigan), Eric Nystrom (Michigan), Greg Zanon (Nebraska-Omaha)
Chicago: Jonathan Toews (North Dakota), John Scott (Michigan Tech), Fernando Pisani (Providence College), Duncan Keith (Michigan St.), Marty Turco (Michigan), Nick Leddy (Minnesota), Jordan Hendry (U of Alaska), Patrick Sharp (Vermont), Viktor Stalberg (Vermont), Ryan Johnson (North Dakota), Jake Dowell (Wisconsin)
Pittsburgh: Craig Adams (Harvard), Chris Conner (Michigan Tech), Nick Johnson (Dartmouth), Chris Kunitz (Ferris State), Brett Sterling (Colorado College), Joe Vitale (Northeastern), Alex Goligoski (Minnesota), Brooks Orpik (Boston College), Ben Lovejoy (Dartmouth), Paul Martin (Minnesota)
Mind you, this list is just of the guys you’re likely to see play during Hockey Day In America. You won’t get to see Boston University’s Chris Drury, University of Michigan’s Mike Comrie, or Western Michigan’s Mark Letestu thanks to injuries. Just looking at the array of guys that played college hockey on Chicago and Pittsburgh’s roster is stunning on its own.
While the NCAA and the CHL are going through their own brand of cold war regarding recruitment of players, one thing both leagues can boast is the uncanny ability to produce the next set of great players to come along in the NHL.
The work the coaches and institutions across college hockey have done in building themselves up into an even more viable entity for kids with an eye on the pros to go to has been a long time in development. With former head of the NHLPA Paul Kelly now in charge of College Hockey, Inc. the amount of attention that will be brought to the college game will only grow. The annual Frozen Four is generally when fans will hear most about the college game, but Kelly’s duties will be to help make it more of a season-round thing as well as doing their part to throw their weight around when dealing with the CHL.
While Canadian junior hockey is still the main go-to spot for teams to find NHL talent coming up through the ranks, the NCAA with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith helping draw more attention to where their roots in the game came from is getting noticed a lot more. For a lot of fans it’s just hockey all the same to them, but for Americans a lot of their roots in the game came from rooting on the local college team, something yours truly can vouch for personally.