COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Some of the best players in the world – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and anybody wearing a Detroit Red Wings or Colorado Avalanche jersey – will be absent from the NHL All-Star game on Sunday.
Yet the list of American-born talent at the game is longer than it’s ever been.
When the sport’s best showcase their talents, there will be nine U.S. born and bred players. It’s the largest red, white and blue contingent since the NHL went to this format in 2003.
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”That upsurge has been there,” said Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette, born in Norwood, Massachusetts, who will serve as a head coach in the annual goal-fest held for the first time this year in Ohio’s capital city.
”There’s good players all over the world, there really is. But the U.S. has definitely made strides and continues to make strides.”
The native sons include some of the biggest names in the sport: Chicago right wing Patrick Kane and Columbus left wing Nick Foligno (both from Buffalo, New York), Toronto right wing Phil Kessel and Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter (both from Madison, Wisconsin), and others such as Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, St. Louis blue liner Kevin Shattenkirk, Ottawa left wing Bobby Ryan, Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson and Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk.
”You’re seeing a lot of great players start to come up now,” said Shattenkirk, one of the game’s best young defensemen. ”It’s been a great few years for U.S. hockey. It’s exciting to see that many guys here. We do take a lot of pride in, I don’t want to say proving ourselves, but just making sure that American hockey is respected.”
Consider that there were only eight American players in each of the past two All-Star games, in 2012 and 2011 (the 2013 games was canceled due to a labor dispute and there was no game last year because the Winter Olympics). Before that, there were seven U.S. players participating in 2009, three in 2008, five in both 2007 and 2004 and six in 2003.
Suter said the players grow up together, play on national teams together and those bonds remain strong.
”You’ve played with a lot of them, that’s the big thing, either in the world championships or the Olympics or growing up with the under-18s and under-17s,” Suter said. ”That’s where you build those relationships. When you see them around at things like this, it’s a familiarity thing.”
On one of the NHL’s biggest stages, much has been made of those who are not participating.
Crosby and Malkin, both of the Pittsburgh Penguins, are out due to injuries. The Red Wings and Avalanche do not have a representative for the same reason.
Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins goaltender, will be the lone representative from one of the league’s highest-profile teams.
”I don’t think I’m going to score any goals,” he said with a laugh, when asked about having to replace his missing teammates. ”I know they talked about they wanted to be here. Obviously they’re taking that time to heal up. A little disappointed to not have my teammates with me, but I’m trying to make the best out of it.”
Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, who led the NHL in goals a year ago, is back for his fifth All-Star game out of a possible seven; Crosby, who came into the league at the same time, has appeared in only one.
”For fans it’s kind of a disappointing moment,” Ovechkin said.
Goalies Jimmy Howard of Detroit, Pekka Rinne of Nashville and Sergei Bobrovsky of the host Columbus Blue Jackets are also injured and will miss the game.
But some of the players said the emphasis should be put on who is in uniform.
”There’s still, obviously, a bunch of amazing hockey players here,” Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen said.
There was a distinct buzz in Columbus about the likelihood of the NHL reviving the World Cup of Hockey international series next year. Though the league isn’t commenting, several players expect an announcement to be made shortly.
”I think it would be awesome,” Suter said.
The World Cup has been held twice, most recently in 2004, and replaced the Canada Cup, which was held five times.
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed.
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