Hockey now an American Game

8.1.2024. It is time to admit it. Even congratulations may be in order. The United States has become a burgeoning hockey superpower. The expected dominance of Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championships a few days ago in Sweden was just the beginning of the next chapter.

Wagon U20 Team

They were expected to be the best team in the tournament. No weaknesses. Unbelievable from top to bottom. Complete talent-wise. Probably the best team the USA has ever fielded at the U20s. Not at the same level as the 2005 NHL lock-out year Team Canada, but one of the best teams we have ever witnessed in this tournament.

It was quite the sight to behold after Team USA had beaten the host Tre Kronor in the final in Gothenburg. The young American kids were not just “listening to the f….g song” like another one of our favorite American players did about 45 years ago.

These kids were standing arms on shoulders like the brothers they were, and singing from the top of their lungs. What was the US National Women’s Soccer team’s excuse again? As bad as these guys sing, this showed why they are a winning team. These champions play for each other, like all champions do.

And these young Americans proudly stand for their flag and sing their national anthem. Get used to seeing and listening to scenes like this, because USA Hockey has finally arrived. The final got a little ugly – at least by international hockey standards – in the end. Were the Americans a little cocky? Ask Jonathan Lekkerimäki.

And remember these names. Team USA may have had two of the five best goalies in the entire tournament in Trey Augustine and Jacob Fowler. Cutter Gauthier, a future National Hockey League power center for the Philadelphia Flyers, who can distribute, and score goals. The Winnipeg Jets have a gem in captain Rutger McGroarty. Jimmy Snuggerud will score a bunch for the St. Louis Blues.

And how do you say Lane Hutson with a French Canadian accent? Not very big, but he can play. Think about Samuel Girard.

And there are many others. Isaac Howard scored seven goals. How does Tampa always find these players?

Almost the entire team consists of 19-year-olds, already drafted by their respective NHL teams. This is a tournament, in which the team with the best 19-year-olds usually wins. Almost everybody playing American University Hockey. Many graduates of USHL and the NTDP, the National Development Program.

Many up here in the Great White North like to point out that Team Canada never gets its best players for the U20s (except that 2005 team). This year Team Canada was missing at least Connor Bedard, Kevin Korchinski, Adam Fantilli, Shane Wright, and maybe one or two others.

The US was also missing Logan Cooley. The Coyotes were never going to make him available. Cole Eiserman`s time will come. Cole Caufield didn’t make the World Juniors at his age either. Many were surprised to see defenceman Hunter Brzustewicz not even be invited to camp.

The Statistics Tell the Story

Hockey, especially NHL Hockey, has always been Canada`s game. Almost all NHL superstars, the generational players, have been Canadians. The number of Canadians on the rosters of NHL teams, and the percentage of Canadian players of all NHL players were always high.

This has changed. Back in 1981 when Yours Truly saw his first live NHL game, the percentage of Canadians was 82.3% (Source: Data Dump). The data analysis on the prevalence of American hockey players in the NHL showcases the remarkable journey US Hockey has undergone since the early 1980s.

The number of US-born players in the National Hockey League has this season reached an all-time high, at 29.3% of the league. Meanwhile, the percentage of Canadian players has dropped to 41.2%, the lowest of all time.

The number and percentage of other nationalities have also risen steadily, but not like the Americans. According to Data Dump, there are 361 Canadians, 257 Americans, 88 Swedes, 52 Russians, 42 Finns, 31 Czechs, and a few others.

The number of US-born players in the NHL has been trending up for a long time. The Miracle on Ice in 1980 has something to do with it. NHL expansion into the non-traditional markets has something to do with it. Wayne Gretzky being traded to the Los Angeles Kings had something to do with it.

American players no longer come exclusively from the usual hockey states. Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York. There are seven Texans in the NHL today. Twelve Californians. Eight each from Arizona and Florida.

People who like to analyze patterns in statistics in hopes of discovering trending numbers believe that by 2030, there will be more American-born players than Canadians in the National Hockey League.

The New York Rangers have the most Americans of all NHL teams on its roster at the moment, 50 percent.

The most telling number may come from the grassroots level. The International Ice Hockey Federation tracks registered hockey players in every member country. In 2022, for the first time, USA Hockey had more registered hockey players than Canada.

United States had 551,006, and Canada 513,674. It is important to note that USA Hockey is growing, while the numbers of Hockey Canada are shrinking.

What about the Stanley Cup? What about the next best-on-best Olympics?

It is often said that Lord Stanley has not visited Canada since 1993 when the Montreal Canadiens earned the right to drink from the Cup as the last Canadian-based team.

This is not entirely true. For example, the Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights had 18 Canadians make at least one post-season appearance in last year`s playoffs. Seventy-five percent of the team were Canadians, easily more than on any other playoff team.

Lord Stanley visited each of these 18 Canadian homes last summer.

The Stanley Cup is all that matters to Canadian hockey players, young and old, from coast to coast. Americans may feel a little bit different.

Let`s hope the NHL sends its best to the 2026 Olympic Games in Italy. Team USA will be stacked with NHL superstars. Auston Matthews. Jack Eichel. The Hughes and Tkachuk brothers. Kyle Connor. Tage Thompson. Brock Boeser. Adam Fox. Charlie McAvoy.

Americans have probably the best and deepest goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck. Jake Oettinger. Thatcher Demko.

If Team USA takes home the gold, it will be no miracle this time.

Team Canada, and a couple of other National Squads, may have a different plan.

Jouni Nieminen, Edmonton

X: @OnsideWithJouni
Facebook: Jouni Niemisen NHL
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