This Week in the United States of Hockey — 1/7-1/13/2012

It’s been an incredibly busy week for hockey in the U.S. and the game at large. There’s been plenty of great stories, big and small. Seeing as I don’t do this nearly often enough, I figured I’d provide a snapshot of the latest goings on in the United States of Hockey.

Coming up after the jump, a look at Americans selected as NHL All Stars, Winter Classic to the Big House?, fun at Fenway, a must-listen to podcast from John Buccigross and more.

The NHL All-Star Roster was announced Thursday and here’s a quick look at the Americans who made it:

Boston Bruin Tim Thomas was the top voted-for goaltender, and why shouldn’t he be? The two-time Vezina winner and last year’s Conn Smythe honoree is one of the best in the game right now. He was voted for 626,540 times. You like him. You really like him.

Among those selected by the NHL:

Patrick Kane — He might be the most skilled American in the game today. Honestly, is there a U.S.-born player with better hands than Kane right now? I think not. He has 38 points so far and looks poised for a strong second half with the front-running Blackhawks.

Phil Kessel — A no-brainer selection, Kessel is having one of the best seasons for an American player in the last decade to this point. He’s second in the league with 24 goals and ranks fourth with 48 points (GASP! Kessel has many assists as he has goals? Yes, he does.) and could push for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer.

Jason Pominville — Say, did you know Pominville is currently creeping on the outside of the NHL’s top-10 point getters? No? Me neither, but he’s locked into 11th with 43 points so far, while captaining the Buffalo Sabres. Pominville was born in Quebec, but plays internationally for the U.S. as a dual-citizen.

Dustin Byfuglien — The lone selection from the Winnipeg Jets, Byfuglien has continued showing his offensive ability from the blue line. He’s one of the more interesting players in American hockey due to his incredible climb to the NHL and his adaptability in the world’s best league. It’s too bad Byfuglien is tucked away in Winnipeg, where many Americans won’t get to see him play.

Ryan Suter — Get a good long look at this name folks, because you’re looking at the best American defenseman in the game right now and he’s only 26 years old. He might be one of the better all-around defenseman in the league. He can shut down a top line, score a big goal, lay a big hit or dish a perfect pass. A very deserving selection for the sometimes underrated Suter.

Keith Yandle — Perhaps one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL, Yandle currently has 25 points for the Phoenix Coyotes. He’s been making a name for himself over the last few years as his production has increased, but is still a relative unknown to much of the American hockey fanbase. His selection is a good opportunity for Yandle to introduce himself to the rest of the country.

Jimmy Howard — Howard is in the top 10 in just about every statistical category for goaltenders. He can occasionally draw the ire of his own fanbase, but the fact of the matter is, he’s a good goalie on a good team. He’ll get hammered for his failings and never get enough praise because of the guys in front of him, unfairly. Howard’s 2.04 goals-against average ranks sixth in the league and he’s already put up four shutouts this year.

Jonathan Quick — One of the best-kept secrets in the NHL coming into this year, Quick is finally getting the exposure and credit he so richly deserves. He has a league-best six shutouts, a sparkling 1.98 goals-against average and .932 save percentage for the Kings. He’s been one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL the entire first half and might only just be getting started.

The Rookies:

The NHL has named a series of rookies to participate in the Skills Competition portion of All-Star Weekend and I think that’s a great opportunity for these young guys to get a taste of NHL stardom. There are two Americans (three American-borns if you count Sean Couturier) among the 12 rookies invited.

Despite the lower number of Americans, it’s interesting to note that four of the rookies played college hockey and three of which were in the NCAA ranks just last year. Justin Faulk, Matt Read and Craig Smith were all playing college last year and have seized full-time roles in the NHL. Could this be the start of a new trend?

Here’s a look at the two American-born players on the rookie list:

Justin Faulk — He started the year up with the Hurricanes, but was sent back to the AHL for a little more seasoning. When he returned to the Canes, Faulk seized his spot and might never find himself in the minors again. He has 10 points on a team that has struggled this year and has looked every bit ready for the NHL just a year removed from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Craig Smith — Using the World Men’s Championships as a springboard, Smith has done a solid job in his rookie campaign coming out of Wisconsin. He is tied for third in rookie scoring with 26 points and has played a pretty sizable role on the Predators at various points this season.

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Some of the bigger news to come out this week is that the NHL and University of Michigan are reportedly negotiating hosting the next Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium, the Big House.

This would likely end up being a record-setting event as far as hockey goes and could offer one of the more unique environments so far for the Winter Classic. There is likely also to be some backlash at some point as to whether hosting an event that features a Detroit team outside of Detroit.

It’s well documented that the city is in economic disarray and the most likely venue in the city, Comerica Park, just so happens to be owned by the same fella that owns the Red Wings.

That said, Michigan Stadium offers a really cool backdrop for the Winter Classic. It’s newly renovated and can hold even more people now. It’s right smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood, providing an intimate setting and plenty of nice external shots that will look good on TV.

The outdoor game featuring the University of Michigan and Michigan State at Michigan Stadium (that’s a lot of Michigans) was one of, if not the best of its kind. With 100,000-plus screaming fans and near perfect conditions, it showed that the Big House was meant for big-time events like this.

It’s much easier said than done to accomplish, but it makes all the sense in the world. A potential Detroit Red Wings – Toronto Maple Leafs game would certainly offer a great spectacle and keep the Winter Classic relevant and special.

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Speaking of outdoor games, Fenway has ice once again and hosted a pair of thrilling Division I college hockey games last weekend and have another pair on the docket for this weekend.

I know that the litany of outdoor games can seem like overkill. Sometimes, I feel the same way, but I’ve softened my stance a little and here’s the reason:

Fenway Park may be hosting some college hockey, but they’ve also opened the ice to some local prep schools and high schools to play. However, Wednesday, Fenway’s ice was occupied by the East Coast Jumbos, Boston’s local special hockey team.

The Boston Herald documented the Jumbos’ trip to Fenway in print and on film, and offer a touching glimpse at what this extraordinary day at the park meant to the Jumbos and the local high school team they scrimmaged.

Fenway will also host a free city public skate on Jan. 16. Tickets were already distributed for the event, but whoever got those tickets are in for the opportunity of a lifetime.

The folks at Fenway sure got a lot of mileage out of that rink, and if you’re going to put one up, you might as well allow for as many people as possible to share in that experience.

To get a glimpse of what it might be like to play hockey at Fenway Park, you can check out the helmet-cam view from Northeastern’s nighttime practice from Wednesday. This video will give you a look at what everything looks like from ice level and remind you why helmet cams are so darn neat.

Another big outdoor game will take place at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. Michigan will meet the surprising number two team in the country Ohio State Sunday.

The New York Times’ Slap Shot hockey blog is getting player diaries from Danny Dries of Ohio State and Michigan’s Chris Brown on the outdoor game experience.

No matter your feelings on ESPN and its hockey coverage (or lack thereof on the TV side at least, their online stuff is excelent), John Buccigross is a great ambassador for the game. A large Twitter following and a daily national audience makes Buccigross one of the most recognizable friends of hockey.

His blogs and podcasts are widely read and listened to, respectively. This week, Buccigross took time to talk about hockey in America in a variety of facets.

First, he talked to old NHL2Night cohort Ray Ferraro about the American outfit at the World Junior Championship. Buccigross then spoke to Kenny Rausch, USA Hockey’s manager of youth hockey and former college hockey player (Boston University) and assistant coach (predominantly at UMass-Lowell).

Rausch covered a variety of American hockey topics, but mainly  focused on development. Buccigross asked an important question. Why don’t we see more elite American scorers in today’s NHL?

Rausch talked about the importance of focusing on skill development at the younger age levels and that we as human beings acquire most of our skills in our pre-teen years. It’s some fascinating stuff. Honestly, it’s a must-listen. So listen to it right here.

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LINKS

USA Hockey announced this week that it is accepting applications for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2012. Among those eligible this year are Doug Weight and Bill Guerin, Angela Ruggiero on the players’ side. There’s no a one-year waiting period for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and I’d think those three players are as deserving as any. (Edit: Ruggiero just retired in December, so she’ll have to wait one year, but should be a first-ballot USHHOFer).

One other person that should receive strong consideration is USA Today’s chief hockey scribe Kevin Allen. Few reporters have covered hockey in America as comprehensively as Allen, who has now written a pair of books on American hockey history. Doc Emrick was the first member of the media to be inducted last year, and if there’s going to be another non-player, non-executive type to get in, it should probably be Allen.

USA Hockey also announced that it is accepting applications for the Brian Fishman Internship. If you are a recent college graduate (or are graduating this spring) and have a desire to work in public relations in hockey, I’d strongly encourage you to apply. I was the 2007-08 Brian Fishman Intern and it was a life-changer for me. It’s essentially a full-time job, it pays, and its far more than just a foot in the door. So ya know… get after it.

The USHL is celebrating its 10th year with Tier I status. It is the only league of that classification in U.S. junior hockey. USA Hockey Magazine takes a look at the last 10 years and how the USHL has evolved.

If you’re not reading every last one of Katie Baker‘s hockey (or otherwise) posts over at Grantland, well, you’re missing out. So start reading up. Insightful, thoughtful and funny every time out.

Chris Dilks at Western College Hockey Blog has been bringing the heat this week on a variety of topics. He always offers unique insight and an entertaining style to get his points across.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend!

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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