Frozen Grounds: Where the Hockey Players Come From

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 25: Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov #20 and defenseman Andrew MacDonald #47 of the New York Islanders defend the net against Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 25, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Many, many more countries than those listed here have hockey programs, but here are where the NHL players come from.

NHL players come from all walks of life and from a great variety of countries. During the 2011-2012 season, 19 countries from mostly North America and Europe were represented in the league. The NHL is still dominated by Canadians, who make up over half of the players that have played this season.

That last fact is incredibly important to Canadians. Since hockey is Canada's sport, then all major hockey leagues need to be dominated (at least in numbers) by Canadians. This includes NCAA hockey as well.

Needless to say, with the number of Europeans in the NHL, names are often butchered repeatedly. In fact, some players tell people to pronounce their names in the American/Canadian fashion, just to get it over with. One Russian goalie, Evgeni Nabokov, asked everyone to just call him "John" when he first started playing in the NHL.

A couple of the more interesting names that have been in the NHL have been Miroslav Šatan (pronounced shah-TAN) from Slovakia, and Pär Djoos (pronounced pear juice - seriously) from Sweden.

Because of this international influence, NHL players tend to be involved in international sports competitions in a much bigger way than any other top-tier professional sports league. Sure, there are the Olympics, and there are national teams that include professional athletes - such as basketball, for instance. But the international competition aspect starts early on, as in college or major juniors.

Every year, there's the World Junior Championships which features high school and college aged players - 16-20 year olds, to be more specific. This happens between Christmas and New Year's Day. It's quite a big production, and the site changes from country to country every year.

Then there's World Championships, which happens every May. Those NHL players not too banged up once their season has ended often participate. As this happens during the Stanley Cup playoffs, only those players whose teams are out of the running are able to participate. This tournament helps set up groups in the Olympics.

There has been a World Cup in the past, also with NHLers, but that hasn't happened since 2004. They were trying to follow in the footsteps of soccer with it. The intent was that it would take place two years after the Olympics, but that has fallen through for some reason.

Part of the problem with NHL players participating in international tournaments is that the season is so long. There has been talk of moving men's ice hockey to the Summer Olympics because of this. As it is, the NHL has to shut down for almost three weeks to allow NHLers to participate in the Winter Olympics.

Right now, no one's entirely sure if the NHL will allow players to participate in the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia, which is a huge bone of contention for the Russian hockey players. There's been talk that the Russian NHL players will boycott the league and instead will play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in their homeland in order to participate. And some owners are even okay with this. This topic is far from settled, however.

The breakdown by nationality, as supplied by the International Ice Hockey Federation, is as follows:

2011-2012 NHL Players by nation

Canada

526

United States

236

Europeans

221

Total

983

European breakdown

Sweden

68

Czech Republic

43

Russia

31

Finland

30

Slovakia

11

Switzerland

8

Germany

7

Denmark

6

Austria

3

Belarus

3

Latvia

3

Slovenia

2

Ukraine

2

France

1

Kazakhstan

1

Lithuania

1

Norway

1

2011-2012 NHL rookies by nation

Canada

70

United States

32

Sweden

12

Russia

3

Switzerland

3

Czech Republic

2

France

1

Slovakia

1

Total

124

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