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Going For The Gold

from Robert Emmet Mara of the Baltimore Post-Examiner,

There are many signs across the nation of our degeneration.  Broken windows in rusting factories are surrounded by buckled sidewalks in empty cities.  Stagnant wages and massive job losses have many of us at others’ throats over proxy issues like race, faith or sexual preference.  Most of this wouldn’t matter if more of us were better employed, if employed at all.  Still, not all things American have gotten worse since 1980.  Ice hockey is one example.

In twenty years, (1990-2010) USA hockey has grown 142 percent from over 195,000 youngsters playing to almost 475,000.  Since 2011, the number of youth hockey players has surpassed a half million.  Many observers attribute this growth in amateur hockey to the success of U.S. Olympic team that won gold at Lake Placid in 1980.  Still, many forget who influenced the players from that team.  For those of us who grew up in the Northeast then, there was no greater influence before Lake Placid than Boston Bruins number ‘4’, Bobby Orr.

Yes, I know the knock on hockey in the U.S.  That it is white and largely confined to the middle and upper classes.  While, in part, it is true that hockey has become a sport for America’s well-heeled suburbs, those of us who grew up playing the game on roller skates in the streets of cities are simply happy the sport has grown and is now competitive with programs of traditional powerhouses, Canada and Russia.


Filed in: NHL Talk, Non-NHL Hockey, | KK Hockey | Permalink


Primis's avatar

I don’t think Lake Placid is what did it for hockey.  The Miracle was something big, but it was about things bigger than the game or sport and to be honest I don’t know that it had a lasting impact on growth.

Now that 1996 USA World Cup team…. that’s different.  I think that has had the single biggest impact on the growth we’re seeing.  Everyone watched that on TV, and for once saw the best going up against the best…. and for once Team USA prevailing.  And that was a unique team/group:  while USA is arguably deeper now, the top-end talent isn’t there like it was in back 1996 (there is no Mike Modano, no Brian Leetch [yet], no Brett Hull).  I’m sorry but the Keslers, Backes, Kanes, etc don’t compare in the least.

It’s only a matter of (probably short) time now before the US has that breakthrough and gets a true generational talent (or two).  Especially if NCAA hockey can continue growth and hold out in outposts like UA Huntsville.  If the PAC 12 schools on the west coast ever decide they want to get in on D1 hockey, I think you’ll have another huge, permanent breakthrough.  As it is we have kids coming into the NHL now from Texas, south Cali, North Carolina, and even Las Vegas.  It’s not imaginary, it’s real growth.

The biggest reason this is important though has nothing to do with national pride or anything.  I think hockey in Canada is slipping, losing its grip (I’m not trolling or flamebait, I continually read Canadian articles about smaller communities that can’t even ice house teams anymore where they used to have to cut kids years ago).  I don’t think quite as many kids are playing as they used to, for a variety of reasons.  And if the major Canadian pool of players is stagnating, someone else’s growth will need to pick up the slack.  And some of the European countries are struggling to keep program afloat, let alone grow (like a Slovakia, or Czech Republic).

Posted by Primis on 06/03/13 at 01:38 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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