With the start of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, a select group of 145 NHLers will head to Vancouver to represent their native countries – providing fans the opportunity to root for national super squads. The so-called “Big Four” teams consisting of host nation Canada, the Czech Republic, Russia, and reigning champion Sweden each boast a fair share of current and former NHL stars. Team USA, while considered in a different tier, is still very much in contention to medal. Lead by Patrick Kane, Ryan Miller, and Zach Parise the young US team features some legitimate star power.
Along with the unique international makeup of the NHL, this presents the American hockey fan with an interesting dilemma: does one root for their countrymen or their beloved NHL stars? Now, the mere suggestion that one would spread allegiances to other nations, for whatever reason, during the Olympic break may smack of treason. But after an initial pang of knee jerk Americanism, consider this quandry:
Prior the the 2008 season, MLB announced that nearly 28 percent of its players were born outside of the US. While not quite as dramatic, the NBA currently employs 83 international players, or 18 percent of its workforce. But hockey consists of 30 teams, 24 in the States (the densest cluster being the six teams spanning our Megalopolis, of course). With six Canadian squads, the NHL owns the most international franchises by a healthy margin between major North American professional sports leagues. America accounts for 59 percent of all revenue from ticket sales. But who are Americans paying to see? The answer is a vast majority of non-American born athletes, many of whom hail from, and reside outside the US in the offseason. According to NHL.com:
- More than 33 percent of NHL players hail from outside North America from 14 nations.
- Last season there were 71 NHL players from the Czech Republic, 64 players from Russia, 50 from Sweden, 38 from Finland, 25 from Slovakia, six from Germany, five from Latvia, four from Ukraine, three from the United Kingdom, two from Poland, two from Lithuania, and one each from Belarus, Norway, and Switzerland.
And these figures don’t even include the Canadian players. In total, just 188 players of the 909 players (slightly over 20 percent) listed on NHL rosters hail from the US. Team USA consists of five reigning NHL All-Stars (out of 45). Chicago fans have Kane; Buffalo fans have Miller; and, in The Corridor, Devils fans have Parise as their favorite American sons, but what about the rest of us?
Take fans of both the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example. In Washington, D.C., Alexander Ovechkin is hockey while in Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby is nothing short of a deity. The two teams flaunt some of the NHL’s top firepower yet none of the key players from either squad is American. Between the two teams, only defenseman Brooks Orpik will don the red, white and blue in this year’s Games. So, what are American Caps/Pens fans to do for the next two weeks? Turn off the Ovie/Crosby love for the stars and stripes? Or adopt a short-term dual citizenship with a maple leaf or sickle? The answer may simply come down to blind national pride, or perhaps individual player popularity will sway the average American hockey fan. You tell us: