Could it be the Americanization of Canada's game? The number of American born players in the NHL remains on the rise but that mirrors an explosion in youth participation across the country while in Canada those numbers are dropping at an alarming rate.
Last season, 156 American players played in 25 or more games, the highest number ever for the NHL. Over an eight year stretch through the end of last season the percentage of Americans playing in just over a quarter of a season has jumped from 15% to 23%. The Buffalo Sabres are doing their part to keep that number high. They currently have 9 U-S born players on the roster, among the leaders in the league.
Canada is by far still the largest producer of NHL players but their share of the market, so to speak, has dropped slightly to 52%. The dramatic slide has come from Europe. Over the last 6 seasons, the number of Russians, Czechs and Slovaks who were in at least 25 games fell by some 35%.
As far as Americans are concerned, the percentages should continue to increase if the youth hockey stats are any indication. During the 2010-2011 season, USA Hockey had an all time high registration total of more than half a million. The largest gains were made in the 6 years of age and under category, meaning more kids are taking up the sport at an earlier age.
It isn't just the traditional hockey states that are driving the numbers. Minnesota and Michigan still top the list with New York State coming in 3rd. But large states like California and Texas have their highest totals ever. There have been major increases in states like Arkansas, Kansas, Nevada and Iowa. Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia are at all time highs as well.
The NHL presence is making a big difference in specific areas. The presence of Sidney Crosby and the success of the Penguins must play a considerable role in the more than 41 percent increase in hockey membership in Western Pennsylvania. Thanks in part to the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks, Illinois has seen double digit jumps in its numbers over the last few years.
Conversely, it isn't a pretty picture to the north. Enrollment in Hockey Canada is at about 570,000 players, a drop of more than 200,000 from its peak. The future doesn't appear bright with projections calling for another loss of some 200,000 kids in the sport over the next decade. Among the reasons cited for the plummeting participation numbers are cost, lack of facilities, disinterest among new immigrants and a declining youth population.