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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

July 10, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Hockey night in Brunei: Is NHL going global?

By Peter A Coclanis

Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History, and Director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Now that this strange but  wonderful  NHL season has ended with a rousing postseason and an amazing win in the finals by the Chicago Blackhawks, the sport has gained new fans and, as important, viewing interest  in its major markets.

Moreover, with globalization and the increased mobility and technological innovations, expat hockey fans were able to keep up with the sport all over the world.  Just after Game 6 of the finals ended, for example, I received an email from a Canadian friend in Southeast Asia — a fan of the Montreal Canadiens — marveling at the Blackhawks’ unlikely victory,  which he had viewed live.

All of this got me thinking about the geography of the hockey world, both the way it has changed over time and its probable limitations.

Quick, hockey fans:  What do Craig Adams of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Akim Aliu of the Calgary Flames, and Robyn Regehr of the Los Angeles Kings have  in common?  Time’s up.  They are the only three players on NHL rosters who were born in places other than Canada, Europe, or the United States:  Adams in Brunei, Aliu in Nigeria, and Regehr in Brazil.    Every follower of the NHL has noticed the increasing number of players from the U.S. on NHL rosters in recent years, but the overall breakdown of current NHL players  by their place of birth is both interesting and revealing.  Here’s the breakdown of the 827 players  on NHL rosters as of June 1, 2013 by broad geographical grouping:

Canada:        432         52.2%

Europe          199         24.1%

U.S.                193         23.3%

Other                 3           0.4%

Basically, then, players hailing from Canada — once the vast majority — now constitute just over half of the players on NHL rosters.   Just under half of the players  in the league now come from Europe and the U.S., with each of these areas accounting for just under a quarter of the total.  Like professional basketball, the NHL has truly diversified where its players come from over the years.  If hockey ever catches on big time in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, then Adams, Aliu and Regehr will no longer constitute the entire class of outliers.

Don’t hold your breath, though. Adams and Regehr spent most of their formative years in Canada, and Aliu in the Ukraine.  Although figure skating is popular in parts of northeast Asia, from the looks of things, players from Canada, Europe, and the U.S. – in some combination — will retain their stranglehold on NHL rosters in the years ahead.   Changing technology and hockey’s excitement may well bring  the sport more fans around the globe, but the players themselves  will continue to hail from places like Buffalo, Stockholm and Thunder Bay.

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