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Americans not surprised by their presence in the 2010 draft

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For a draft that was mostly void of big trades and heavy on rumors, the story of the draft began to focus on the American players that were being selected with greater frequency as the weekend progressed. After the first round concluded, there was some confusion as to whether a record was tied or broken for Americans drafted in the first round, before USA Hockey sent out a release stating that yes, a record 11 American players were drafted in the first round.

According to their release, USA Hockey does not use birthplace criteria for considering a player American, but instead uses his developmental roots. The sticking point in this case was Cam Fowler, a Canadian-born player claiming dual citizenship who grew up playing in America. With that official statement, 2010 became a banner year for hockey in the United States.

It was fitting, coming just months after the United States stunned the Canadians in the World Juniors, putting an exclamation point on the rise of American hockey over the past 20 years. When the NHL started expanding south, placing teams in San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Dallas, Florida, Atlanta and Nashville -- this was going to be the eventual outcome.

Young kids, growing up with hockey in their area and never knowing that “hockey isn’t supposed to be played in the south” develop their talents and an early age and then move up the ranks to the US Development Program which has started to produce some of the best players in hockey in recent years.

Toronto GM Brian Burke says it’s not just those NHL teams that are making an impact on these young players, but the emergence of minor league teams as well.

“We put teams in these little towns and little cities in Louisiana and Texas,” Burke said.

“Youth hockey springs up around them. I think that’s been just as important in getting kids to play as the NTDP team has been.”

In all, the United States finished with 60 players drafted in 2010, just 30 behind Canada. Of course, the ratio of players drafted to a country’s population will always favor Canada, but it’s a great sign for a sport in which American players have always been a strong minority.

Now, not only are Americans being drafted but some of the top players in draft hail from the United States. Players are coming from California, Texas and other areas generally not considered “hotbeds of hockey development” as these youth programs gain more strength and more talent over the years. These players being drafted now grew up with hockey in their area, and they find nothing unusual about so many Americans being taken in the draft now.

They also had nothing but praise for USA Hockey and the NTDP, the program that has done so much to develop these young players into some of the best talent in the draft. These American players that have been together for the past few years and are now going their separate ways formed a bond during their time with the NTDP, which was on full display while the team won the IIHF World Juniors. Colorado Avalache third-round pick Michael Bournival says that’s a bond that will never be broken.

“I’ll talk to those guys the rest of my life,” Bournival said. “Every single one of those players is like a brother to me, and that will stay like that for the rest of my life. I have no doubt about that.”

“Being a part of this last year, where the United States really broke out in the world, from 2009 under-18’s all the way up to this last under-18, USA hockey is really getting on the map. It’s an honor to have been a part of that and this draft year is great as well, and I’m excited just to be a part of it.”

Every American player we talked with spoke with obvious pride of how the sport has grown in the United States, and none were surprised at the amount of Americans drafted this year.

As the game of hockey continues to grow in areas such as Texas, Florida and California we’ll continue to see more and more Americans taken high in the draft. This past year was a record year for USA Hockey, and you can expect coming years to be just the same.