The Canadians started it, but the Americans have embraced it and are now making the NHL a sport dominated by the USA.
We all know the Canadians get credit for giving birth to the sport of hockey and started selling tickets to watch men glide up and down a sheet of ice about a hundred years ago. Hey, it wasn’t like they invented electricity or the telephone or the cure for one insidious disease after another because, of course, we did all that but they do get credit for hockey. We all know Montreal is the cradle of the fastest sport on ice but it has become the orphan that America was just waiting to adopt.
In 1926, the Boston Bruins were the first American team added to the Canadian-only league, and though the States had hockey teams, the players were imported from the North, a steady stream of Canadian players dominating the slippery stage. However, in 1968 there began a seismic shift when Herb Boxer became the first American born player to get drafted into the NHL as a 2nd round pick by the prescient Detroit Red Wings. Motown was ready for a domestic player and, little by little, the rest of the league followed suit.
Born in the USA
After years of Americans slowly infiltrating the game, 1981 arrived and a can’t-miss kid named Bobby Carpenter from a prep school 30 minutes north of Boston was drafted 3rd overall by the Washington Capitals. Carpenter would go on to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated and become the first US born player to score 50 goals in a season, serving notice that Americans could play this game too.
If 1981 was the spark, then 1983 has to be considered the flame when three of the top 5 picks came out of the USA. Brian Lawton, Pat Lafontaine and Tommy Barrasso were gobbled up like a Thanksgiving dinner, and the world now knew that the USA was producing more than just hockey equipment; they were manufacturing premium prospects.
While the subsequent years would produce many more US born draft picks, it wasn’t until 2003 that the bumper crop would reach 18 over the first two rounds. In 2010, a record eleven US born players were picked in the first round alone and the message was clear: the red white and blue was now becoming the bedrock for NHL talent.
They say baseball is America’s pastime, so it is only logical that 29 0f the 30 franchises are located in the States. Toronto is the lone exception. However, in a game ostensibly dominated by Canadians, only seven of thirty franchises are located in the Great White North versus 23 in the United States.
Sure one can make the case that the US is more densely populated but per capita there is more interest in Canada, yada, yada yada. Show me the money, Pierre! That’s right, all those gate revenues and TV ratings mean plenty of American dollars for a game that is claimed by our neighbors to the north.
Now I am not saying that hockey is more popular than baseball, basketball or even football in America. It is still considered the red headed stepchild of the four major sports. However, there are plenty of people who do enjoy it; it just so happens that Chicago had a league-leading attendance record over the 2011-2012 regular season as 882,874 people passed through those United Center turnstiles. I guess the reason hockey is not number one in America, as it is in Canada, is because we have something the Canadians don’t…options! Yes, that’s right, when it comes to sports we’ve got several other leagues that vie for our attention while the Canadians have curling.
So I say to my North American compatriots, you may have started the game, but we are improving it. Toronto and Montreal are supposed to be the Meccas of ice hockey but you won’t see any tickets being sold for their playoff games right now because both those hockey hotbeds are on vacation! The vaunted Stanley Cup has not been on Canadian soil since the 1993 season. Speaking of Toronto, their best professional team plays on a baseball diamond not a sheet of ice. Professional ice hockey, made right here in America. It’s not Canada’s game anymore!