On the heels of Canada's loss to the U.S. at the world juniors and Al Maki's story today on the development of hockey in both countries, I wanted to chime in on the topic a little.
My own theory as to why there's a shift is that there are simply a lot more Americans playing hockey these days than a decade or two ago. USA Hockey is just a far bigger organization than it used to be.
All of those American juniors in the tournament were born around 1991 and would have entered the system five or six years later, right as participation in hockey in the U.S. was beginning to catch up with Canada (in terms of overall numbers).
I'm just using the data provided by Hockey Canada and USA Hockey on their websites, but it does make sense that with so many American youngsters now playing in places like California (and going on to the WHL for junior hockey) that the number of total players in the U.S. is up significantly.
It's a trend that's been evident in the NHL for a while, too. Ten years ago, Canadian players made up roughly 60 per cent of the NHL, a number that was down to around 52 per cent last season. American born players, however, are up from about 16 per cent of the NHL to close to 20.
There's obviously a long ways to go before the U.S. catches Canada in that regard, but it's not unfathomable that, at some point, there are more people playing overall in the States. That alone is going to make the calibre of their international teams better and better.