The following is a list of the places of origin for all NHL players in the history of the league (1926 to present), based on the database on hockeydb.com, “the internet’s largest repository of hockey data,” as of 7/22/04. This data is intended to give a general idea of where professional hockey players come from. I do not vouch for the numbers to be precisely accurate, as some players’ birthplaces were not listed in the database. I have previously researched where current NHL players come from, as well as where minor league hockey players come from. This concludes my study of NHL player origins with a comprehensive listing of all player places of birth.
Czech Republic: 155
South Korea: 2
South Africa: 1
Total Europe/Other: 717
New York: 56
Rhode Island: 18
North Dakota: 6
New Jersey: 5
New Hampshire: 4
South Dakota: 2
Washington DC: 1
Total United States: 619
British Columbia: 251
Nova Scotia: 50
New Brunswick: 40
Prince Edward Island: 19
Northwest Territories: 4
Total Canada: 3787
Total Parts Unknown (no birthplace listed): 469
Total NHL players documented: 5592
Percentages (not including the 469 unknown birthplaces)
Canada: 73.9% (3787/5123)
Europe/Other: 14.0% (717/5123)
United States: 12.1% (619/5123)
Europe/Other: Czech Republic (155), Sweden (148), Russia (136)
United States: Minnesota (151), Massachusetts (131), Michigan (90)
Canada: Ontario (1690), Quebec (632), Alberta (421)
To put these numbers into perspective: Between 1969 and 2003, 7970 players have been drafted in the NHL Entry Draft. Also, here is an interesting breakdown of hockey players and month born, made by an individual interested in the seasons and/or astrology. And finally, a breakdown of total NHL salaries per country of birth.
Looking at the data, an NHL player is just as likely to have been born in Tanzania as in Alabama, with one player produced by each location. Southern states of Virginia (5), Georgia (3), Florida (3), Alabama (1), North Carolina (0), South Carolina (0), Tennessee (0), Mississippi (0), Arkansas (0), Louisiana (0), and Kentucky (0) have left virtually no mark on the player production chart through 78 years of NHL history.
36 states (and the District of Columbia) are represented on the player production chart, with North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, Kansas, and West Virginia lacking any production. I find it scary that, in 78 years of NHL history, no native of these states has ever skated on an NHL rink. I’d think a random blip in the general pattern of player production would eventually favor them, so maybe we’ll see a Hawaiian native in another 78 years.
Of the 192 countries in the world (US recognizes 191, with Taiwan still as a part of China), 37 are represented on the player production chart (Wales and Scotland are a part of England). I’d say that’s a pretty good number, considering that hockey hasn’t permeated into South America (15), Africa (54), or Asia (37), number of countries in parenthesis.
In 1983, 78.3% of NHL players were born in Canada, as opposed to the 52.6% today. Conversely, 16% of NHL players today were born in the United States, the highest mark in league history. This reflects the apparent growing diversity of the NHL. However, I find a void in this diversity when considering Southern states. While Northern/Midwestern states have steadily increased player production in recent years, Southern states have lagged far behind.
To me, this reflects how the Southern Culture and hockey are like oil and water. I have no hard time saying that hockey is not culturally compatible in all parts of the world. It’s just a fact of the world that certain cultures and regions are more apt to play certain sports. Like I’ve said before, expecting hockey to flourish in the South is kind of like expecting Canadians to become world-class surfers and compete with Hawaiians and Californians. And would it really make sense for Canada to organize its own surfing league and import southern talent? If you say “no,” then you should also say “no” to NHL hockey in the South, because that’s exactly what’s going on today.
I don’t expect Southerners to play the “Yankee Game” at high levels, because it is meteorologically impossible for their children to skate on the local ponds. It takes a conscience investment in buying indoor rink time, as well as the expensive equipment that makes hockey a high-maintenance sport anywhere. The expensive aspect of playing hockey makes it difficult anywhere, something that sets it apart from sports like baseball and soccer, which only require willing players and an open field. In addition, hockey has generally become a fad down south. The Florida Panthers that made the Finals in 1996, but a franchise downspiral in years later saw the hockey craze in Miami disappear as fast as Beanie Babies. I see Southern hockey as more of a business venture of entertainment than passion of the Game.
After finding only one Southern hockey player playing on a southern team in the five minor hockey leagues which the NHL recognizes (that’s 34 teams and 622 players), I can’t help but be pessimistic about future Southern hockey production. The fact is that Southern states are not producing much hockey talent beyond the high school level. And that happens to be the level where players can’t realistically be outsourced from the North. In college and levels above, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any Southern-born players.
One of the biggest problems I have with the expansion of hockey to the South is that it happened so fast. Nashville, Florida, Carolina, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay. In ways, interest should be a prerequisite for having an NHL team. Rather than implanting an NHL team in a dead-zone of hockey, and hope that interest trickles down to lower levels, I’d like to see a building interest in lower levels of the Game before awarding the region a team. Gary Bettman’s good intentions of spreading the Game turned into forcing it on a population and hoping that they would accept it. I’d rather teach people about hockey at lower levels of play, rather than starting from square one at the professional level. I would certainly not be against NHL hockey in the South if I saw a concrete interest in the Game. That said, I don’t believe such a great interest will ever precipitate in the South, unless there’s a mass exodus of Northerners moving into the region. Though this “mass exodus” happens every Spring Break in Florida, the second home of every Michigander, so I’d give Florida the best chance of becoming a viable hockey community.
The goal of this study is not to badger the Southern region nor divide the nation in terms of hockey in the North and Nascar in the South. I mean to offend no one, but want to present this data, and, at the very least, allow the reader to draw his/her own conclusion.