Is Hockey now an American Game?


Made in Canada but adopted by Americans. What is the future of Hockey in Canada now that US based teams are the real NHL picks?

Any hockey historian of note will tell you that the NHA (National Hockey Association) started in 1909, suspended operations and was transformed into the NHL that we know today in 1917.  Montreal, Canada was the birthplace and there is no disputing which country gets credit for starting America’s great game.

In 1926 the Boston Bruins were the first American team added to the Canadian only league and since that time many changes have occurred.  But the one constant has been the steady stream of Canadian players dominating the slippery stage.  However, the landscape shifted ever so slightly in 1968 when Herb Boxer became the first American born player to get drafted into the NHL as a 2nd round pick by the forward thinking Detroit Red Wings.  Yes, I said forward thinking!

Ok so now we must fast forward the time machine a bit.  The year is 1981 and a can’t miss kid named Bobby Carpenter out of a prep school 30 minutes north of Boston is drafted 3rd overall by the Washington Capitals.  Carpenter would go on to become the first US born player to score 50 goals in a season and changed the climate of hockey in North America.  

If 1981 was the start of American influence then 1983 has to be considered a game changer when three of the top 5 picks were made in the USA.  Brian Lawton, Pat Lafontaine and Tommy Barrasso were gobbled up like a Thanksgiving dinner and the message was now clear, the USA is now manufacturing premium hockey players.

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 is now becoming the bedrock for NHL talent.

Yes, the Montreal Canadiens have indeed won the Stanley Cup more often than any other team, a record 24 times hoisting Lord Stanley's trophy.  But one might argue they have been around longer than virtually any other club but nevertheless, we will grant our Canadian audience their due respect when it comes to drinking from the Cup.  

However, like the supremacy and domination Canada once had over the world of hockey, that too is slipping away in the NHL.  Can you name the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup?  Some reading this may not have even been born when this last occurred.  Believe it or not the Prince of Wales Conference champions, the Montreal Canadiens or Les Habitantes, hoisted the Cup aloft in June of 1994.  Since that time, Canada has been a barren wasteland with the Canucks coming ever so close but losing to the gritty and physical Boston Bruins last season.  

The NHL odds makers have made the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers prohibitive favorites to bring the Cup to the Big Apple and of course the reigning Stanley Cup champs are also less than 5-1 to repeat their brilliant postseason performance from last year.  Sure the Canucks may get another bite at the apple but then again, how did that work out last season?

Perhaps this season Vancouver or Ottawa will return Canada back to its former glory. The days when Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur were mesmerizing the entire world with their beguiling alacrity as well as the sheer grace of their game.  Maybe, just maybe the Stanley Cup returns to the Motherland...but I wouldn't bet on it.

Interested in discussing this further? Then check out what I really think and join the debate over at SBR.


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