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Miracle on Ice keeps on giving

Its been more than 33 years since the "Miracle on Ice" yet the improbable run to Olympic Gold by the United States continues to impact the state of hockey in this country.  The two most notable areas are the presence of American players in the National Hockey League and the explosion of youth hockey participation across the fifty states and in the District of Columbia.

The lockout shortened 2012-2013 season saw some 220 U.S. born players in the NHL, according to QuantHockey.com.  That number represents just under 25% of the league.  Only Canada accounted for more players last season(485).  

If you go back to the 1967-68 season when the NHL expanded from 6 to 12 teams, Americans made up just 2% of the rosters.  By the 1979-1980 season(the Miracle on Ice season), the number was up to 12%.  It hit 15% at the start of the millennium and last season's percentage is an all time high.  28 different states and Washington D.C. were represented last season.  If you look at all time U.S. born players to play in the NHL, 37 different states have produced at least one.

When Patrick Kane was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs, it was significant to us because Kane is a native of South Buffalo.  But there was a  much larger significance to that moment in terms of U.S. hockey.  Kane became the third straight American to win the prestigious award, following LA Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.

Last season, Kane and fellow American Phil Kessel were both in the top ten in points.  Kane and Kessel were among a group of seven Americans in the top 25 in goals scored(Blake Wheeler, Derek Stepan, James Van Riemsdyk, Zach Parise and Dustin Brown).  The U.S. also accounted for three of the top ten goalies in terms of goals against average with Craig Anderson leading the league.  Cory Schneider was 8th and Jimmy Howard finished 9th.

Last month's draft was another example of the growing influence of hockey in our country.  57 Americans were selected including three in the first round and 11 in the first two rounds. Seth Jones was the highest drafted American going fourth to Nashville.   The Buffalo Sabres decided to "Buy American", taking J.T. Compher, Connor Hurley and Buffalo native Justin Bailey all in the second round.

This marked the 12th straight year the number of Americans drafted in the first two rounds reached double digits.  Its now happened 13 times out of the last 16 drafts.  It happened just once over the first 31 drafts from 1968-1998.  

A quick side note and a little blowing of our own horn here.  When the Sabres drafted Bailey, he became the fourth Western New York native to be taken in the first two rounds since 2000, joining Adam Clendening(2011), Patrick Kane(1st overall in 2007) and Brooks Orpik(2000).

There have been at least 50 U.S. born players taken in the last five NHL drafts.  That includes the monumental 2011 draft when a record 11 Americans had their names called out in round one. If you're wondering, the most Americans ever drafted in one year was 62 back in 2007.

The 2012 draft marked the first time there were 2 Americans taken in the top ten as Alex Galchenyuk went third to Montreal and Winnipeg selected Jacon Trouba with the ninth pick.

American born players have experienced success on the ice before reaching  the NHL.  The U.S National team won the Gold medal at the World Junior Championships(captained by Sabres prospect Jake McCabe) last January, the second Gold for Team USA in four years and its third medal in that span.

The U.S. National under 18 team has won Gold at the World Championships four of the last five years, the lone exception being this year's Silver medal. Their medal streak is now at 10 years.

Success at those levels doesn't happen without increased participation for youth hockey.  According to USA Hockey, youth participation enrollment was more than 510 thousand for 2012-2013, nearly double what the number was 20 years ago(262,873).

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