The United States Of Hockey
I admit it, I get extremely nationalistic when hockey gathers for international play. I'm Canadian. It's what we do.
But buried under the toque wearing, red maple leaf face-painted front of Canadians at this year's World Junior tournament in Alberta is the fact that - despite the Americans putrid 7th place finish - the U.S. is on the come.
This year in the NHL a record 23 percent of all players are American born, and 'defenseman' seems to have been the position of choice when this current crop were first lacing em' up (Alex Goligoski, that's you) as there are more U.S. born d-men than there are from all of the European countries combined.
The genesis for this upward trend can probably best be traced back to USA Hockey's decision to establish a national development program back in 1997. That put the best young players on the same team, trained them, exposed them to the best international competition, and in a word "developed" them. Prior to that the American national teams would just throw a bunch of kids together at tournament time and hope for the best; Kind of like taking a group of kids who can't swim, throwing life-jackets on them, driving them to the middle of the lake, tossing them into the water and wishing them good luck.
And maybe most encouraging is there seems to be a robust appetite for the sport among little tyke Americans. Over the past 5 years the number of kids eight and under playing hockey has risen to around 100,000, a historical high.
The sport is growing, others aren't.
Could it be that the U.S. is slowly becoming the land of "hockey mom" and apple pie?