A look at the USHL
On Frozen Blog has an interesting take on the USHL today, calling for one of the American junior league's franchises to setup shop in Washington, D.C.:
The pipeline for Major Junior hockey talent in the States is irrefutably promising and on the upswing. And at present, in its tiny geographical haven, the USHL is cluttering, virtually annually, the NHL Entry Draft’s top few rounds, leading a lot of folks in American hockey circles today to ask this question: what would happen if the USHL continued to expand . . . especially if it went to the unconquered, comparatively hockey-mad East?It's an interesting question, and the rise of the USHL makes me wonder how the number of Americans going to Canadian major junior will be impacted in the future. (Although, to be entirely accurate, USHL grads are perhaps sprinkling the entry draft more than "cluttering" it. Twenty-one were picked in the 2007 draft out of 210 players, including three late in the first round. The CHL had 97. Most USHL picks remain in the later, long-shot rounds.)
Fargo, incidentally, boasts a population of 74,000. Washington of course isn’t anywhere near as hockey-crazed (except in its per capita tally of puck bloggers); it hasn’t, for instance, hosted a World Under-20 tourney. But soon it is hosting a Frozen Four, and with a GMA population exceeding 5 million, does D.C. really need to be puck crazy to support another hockey team?
Notables to have recently come from the league include Thomas Vanek, Matt Carle, Joe Pavelski, Keith Ballard, Rostislav Klesla, Erik Cole and Joe Corvo. Some of these players were recruited into Canadian major junior after showing promise in the USHL.
Phil Housley and Gary Suter were two of the first NHLers to come from the league back in the early 1980s, while Vanek, Kyle Okposo and Blake Wheeler are three USHL players drafted in the top six picks of recent drafts.
The league averages around 3,000 fans per game in 12 different cities throughout the Midwest.
Personally, I'm for any chance for players to stay as close to home as possible when it comes to sports development, as it's an awful lot to ask of a 15- or 16-year-old player from, say, Long Beach, California, to move all the way to Prince George, B.C., just to pursue an unlikely career in hockey. The USHL gives some players that chance (although many players are still coming from well outside of the league's home base).
The American development system has improved by leaps and bounds from where it was even 10 years ago, and there are far more youths playing hockey in that country than ever before. Hockey's not yet a truly global game, and it doesn't draw from many well-populated countries — all four of Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia combine for less than Canada's small population base — and with Russia's development system in shambles, the U.S. remains the only really large country producing players.
Ten years from now, it's likely hockey's Top 7 group of international powers will be dominated by the two North American countries, and the USHL's rise is just one example of where that lift is coming from.
Top 20 hockey countries (w/ population):
|IIHF rank||Country||Population||% of world|