Fewer NHL players now come from Saskatchewan — why?

Fewer and fewer NHL players are now coming from Saskatchewan now than in the past — and there are differing opinions on why that is.

This season, just 20 players from Saskatchewan have dressed for a National Hockey League team, associate Carleton University journalism professor Randy Boswell recently reported in The Hockey News.

Included in that number are the Seattle Kraken’s Jordan Eberle and a handful of players on the defending Stanley Cup championship team, the Vegas Golden Knights.

But the number is about a third of what it was in the 2009-10 season, when there were 57 Saskatchewan players in the NHL.

At times, nearly 10 per cent of NHL players have been from Saskatchewan, Boswell told guest host Adam Hunter in a Tuesday interview with CBC Radio’s Afternoon Edition.

“There is an incredible hockey culture in the province,” Boswell said, calling it a factory of NHLers.

“Obviously Saskatchewan is doing something right, because they still are producing NHL players at a higher rate than anybody else on the continent. It’s just that their dominance isn’t as great as it used to be.”

Fewer Canadians playing in NHL

Saskatchewan isn’t the only region with dropping numbers on NHL rosters, according to Boswell — it’s Canada-wide.

In 2003-04, there were 20 Quebec-produced goalies in the NHL. Now there are four.

Boswell doesn’t believe Canada’s official winter sport has lost its fame at home, but it’s gained traction elsewhere. 

“There is increasing competition from … U.S. states,” especially northern states like Minnesota, he said.

“The United States, and Europe of course, are producing high-calibre hockey players in a way that they never had in the past.”

LISTEN | Randy Boswell on why there are fewer Sask. NHL players: 

The Afternoon Edition – Sask9:05Numbers show steady decline in number of NHL players from Sask.

A different kind Prairie drought. Saskatchewan has had a long history of producing players for the NHL, but the numbers show a steady decline in recent years. Randy Boswell has been following the numbers and joins guest host Adam Hunter to share his thoughts.

At Saskatoon’s Merlis Belsher Place — home to two indoor ice rinks — there was a cacophony of hockey sounds on Wednesday: skates carving into ice, pucks ringing off of plexiglass and the slight patter of stickhandling. 

Among the skaters were people learning to play hockey, some working to get a chance at The Show and hockey veterans.

While Boswell said he isn’t certain how much of a factor money is in the decline in Saskatchewan-produced NHL players, some of the skaters at Merlis Belsher Place think it plays a role.

“I think it’s got to do with the price of living here and living in Canada,” said Jett Strang, 19, taking time standing rinkside.

Jett Strang, 19, said he’s noticed there seems to be a growing importance placed on hockey in other regions, while that seems to be waning in Saskatchewan. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

“Also, the drive for hockey, I believe, has gone down here — just a lower trend of hockey here compared to the U.S.”

He thinks people are focusing more on studying for off-the-ice jobs rather than trying to make a career on the rink.

Tyson Tietz, an 11-year-old future NHL hopeful, said it’s tough to know if kids his age have the drive to go all the way to the national league, but agrees money can be a barrier.

“Some people have access to stuff that some people don’t. It’s expensive and it’s just hard to be a high-level hockey player,” he said.

Victor Howald said players in northern communities don’t have the same access to hockey those in southern communities have, or the same opportunity to improve. 

He lives in Fond du Lac, more than 800 kilometres north of Saskatoon, where there’s no artificial ice, he said. 

A few hockey players skate in an indoor ice rink
There are fewer and fewer NHL players from Saskatchewan. Some hockey players chalk it up to financial troubles, while others say it’s due to growing interest in the sport elsewhere. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

A player with him on Wednesday had to drive south to play, he said. And in some cases, players in the north can’t travel to compete with neighbouring communities because the ice roads haven’t filled out, said Howald.

“There’s a lot of good talent up there — just doesn’t get to be seen.”

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