The NHL's version of "The Final Four" is here, and that means one last hurdle to overcome before getting the chance to play for Lord Stanley. In the Eastern Final, the Montreal Canadiens or New York Rangers will advance to the Cup Final for the first time since 1993 and 1994, respectively. In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings meet in the Conference Final for the second straight year. NHL brackets had to have been more successful than the ones people meticulously yet hopelessly filled out during the NCAA's March Madness. Too bad Warren Buffet didn't offer a million dollars for NHL playoff prognostication.
Team Canada captured back-to-back Gold with Olympic victories in Vancouver in 2010 and this year in Sochi. Canada's success on the international level is a given, considering its rich history of players penetrating the world's top league. Over 51 per cent of today's NHL players are Canadian. Back in the 70s, the number exceeded 95 per cent. The amount of American players has grown dramatically from two percent to just under 25 per cent today. And the same goes for Sweden. Its one per cent of players in the 70s has grown to eight in 2014. These are the three biggest NHL player-producing countries.
Canada and the United States are going to trump any other country when it comes to producing NHL caliber players. To make the list more interesting, I have narrowed it down by pinpointing specific provinces in Canada and states in the U.S., and stacking them up against nations outside of North America as a whole.
Tradition has players from the Stanley Cup winning team bringing the trophy back home to flaunt it to family and friends. So let’s take a look at where the players will be heading. Here are the most places that produced the most conference final talent in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
4 6: (Tie) New York And British Columbia – 5 Players
The most popular American state between the NHL’s final four and the only one to grace this list is New York, yet none of the players who hail from the big apple play their home games at Madison Square Garden.
Montreal's Brian Gionta (Rochester) and LA's Dustin Brown (Ithatca) will get first-crack at hoisting the Stanley Cup as captains of their respective teams if they can manufacture eight more playoff wins.
The best hands in the NHL, belonging to ‘Hawks winger Patrick Kane, originally began working their magic in Buffalo. His seldom-used Chicago teammate Jeremy Morin was born and raised in Auburn. Veteran Habs defenceman Francis Bouillon was born in New York City, but moved to Quebec at the age of three.
British Columbia is the first of several Canadian provinces to showcase Canadian talent on the biggest stage. BC is home to arguably the most dominant goaltender in the playoffs, Carey Price (Anahim Lake) and his teammate in Montreal, defenceman Josh Gorges (Kelowna). Los Angeles has a pair of players from BC in veteran blue liner Willie Mitchell (Port McNeill) and backup goalie Martin Jones (North Vancouver). The only Blackhawk on the list is 2010 Canadian gold-medalist Brent Seabrook (Richmond).
3 3: (Tie) Quebec, Manitoba And Saskatchewan – 6 players
With the signing of perennial playoff performer Daniel Brière in the off-season, the Montreal Canadiens killed two birds with one stone. They found a talented player that can help get them over the hump, and they brought a local kid back home. Along with Brière, fellow Quebecers Michael Bournival (Shawinigan) and David Desharnais (Laurier-Station) represent the final Canadian team left in the playoffs.
Montreal’s opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals, the New York Rangers, have a pair of Quebecers looking to prevent Brière and company from getting over that hump. Derrick Brassard (Hull) and Martin St. Louis (Laval) are key cogs in the Rangers attack, and will be a handful for any team to stop, even one without Carey Price as the last line of defense.
Another net minder with Montreal roots is Chicago’s Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks have a stellar goaltender of their own, and he’s the lone puck-stopper from “la belle province.”
One of Crawford’s teammates in Chicago is one of the top players in the NHL, and he’s from Manitoba. Jonathan Toews is the third captain on the list, and he hails from Winnigpeg. “Captain Serious” won Olympic Gold and his first Stanley cup in 2010. He’s hoping to repeat the feat in 2014, and hoist Lord Stanley for the third time in his career.
Fellow Winnipegian forward Dale Weise was acquired by the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline and has played a crucial role on their fourth. When you score an overtime winner in the playoffs against the Bruins, you’ve proven your worth to Montreal. Weise’s Habs teammate Ryan White hails from Brandon, Manitoba.
Saskatchewan is tied for fifth with six players however, aside from Kings forwards Jarrett Stoll (Melville) and Dwight King (Meadow Lake), the players are regularly seated in the press box. Rangers forward Derek Dorsett (Kindersely), Blackhawks defenseman Sheldon Brookbank (Lanigan) and 2007 Cup Champion with the Ducks Travis Moen (Stewart Valley) join Stoll and King as the only Saskatchewan natives remaining in this year’s postseason.
2 2: Sweden – 10 Players
Our first and only stop outside of North America is the foreign country that is best at producing NHL level players. Sweden is home to 250 former and current NHL players. Czechoslovakia would have had more had it not partitioned in 1993.
The most prolific of the remaining Swedes plays between the pipes. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist (Are) is as stylish on the ice as he is off it. When he’s not denying players from scoring, he’s gracing magazine covers as highly touted as GQ. Fellow Rangers, Forward Carl Hagelin (Sodertalje) and defenceman Anton Stralman (Tibro) have been steady contributors throughout the Rangers quiet playoff run, one that nobody seems to be talking about. Winger Jesper Fast (Nassjo) has participated in just three of the Rangers playoff games thus far.
The Canadiens have just one Swede in Douglas Murray, although he has been scratched from the lineup in place of the more mobile Ontario native Nathan Beaulieu.
The remaining Swedes represent the Chicago Blackhawks. Marcus Kruger, Johnny Oduya and Joakim Nordstrom all hail from Stockholm, while Nik Hjalmarsson is from Eksjo, and David Rundblad from Lycksele.
Oduya and Hjalmarsson play the bulk of minutes as Chicago’s second defensive pairing. Kruger has been a Joel Quenneville favourite and his minutes have increased as the season has progressed. Nordstrom wasn’t an every night fixture in the lineup during the regular season, but he found regular time in the lineup in Chicago’s second round series against the Wild. Rundblad has yet to step on the ice for the postseason.
1 1: Ontario – 23 Players
It’s no surprise to find this Canadian province atop the list. The NHL’s most notable stars, names like Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Corey Perry and Eric Staal originated from the hockey factory of Ontario. In fact, the province has produced the most NHL players (2,145) in league history. To put that into perspective, Quebec is second all-time with just 776. Raise your kid in Ontario!
The LA Kings lead the way with nine Ontario-born players, six of which were members of the Cinderella team that hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2012. The London duo of Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty captured Gold with team Canada in Sochi, and were instrumental in the 2012 Cup victory. They’ll have to be just as good if the Kings are going to overcome the Blackhawks' pursuit of consecutive championships.
Mike Richards (Kenora) headlines the list of remaining Ontario-born Kings. They are: Kyle Clifford (Ayr), Jake Muzzin (Woodstock), Jordan Nolan (St. Catharines), Tanner Pearson (Kitchener), Tyler Toffoli (Scarborough) and Justin Williams (Cobourg). Williams won his first cup with Carolina in 2006 and has the chance to complete the hat-trick in 2014.
Three of Montreal’s four Ontario-born players are defencemen. Canadiens fans can’t help but jump out of their seats when 2012 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban (Toronto) has the puck on his stick. Bramalea native Mike Weaver was a key trade deadline acquisition. His ability to continuously block shots and make intelligent defensive plays has been invaluable. Talented youngster Nathan Beaulieu (Strathroy) has provided Michel Therrien with a more mobile option than the aging Douglas Murray. Brandon Prust (London) rounds out the list of Ontario-born Habs. The fan favourite is starting to rediscover his groove after being out of the lineup for an extended period of time due to injury.
A large portion of the New York Rangers core is from Ontario. Dominic Moore (Thornhill) helped frustrate Sidney Crosby in round two. Rick Nash (Brampton) hasn't found the back of the net as often as he's accustomed to, but he got off to a nice start in game one against Montreal. Former Hab Benoit Pouliot (Alfred) would love to stick it to his ex-team. The trio of Ontario defencemen Dan Girardi (Welland), Kevin Klein (Kitchener) and Marc Staal (Thunder Bay) have formed a lethal combination with rising star Ryan McDonagh and solidified veteran Henrik Lundvist. Don't forget about the erratic Dan Carcillo (King City) who also jumped into the lineup and left his mark by scoring twice against the Flyers in the opening round of the playoffs. King Henrik’s back-up is Caledonia native Cam Talbot.
Forward Bryan Bickell (Bowmanville) and 2012 playoff hero Andrew Shaw (Belleville) are the only Ontario-born Blackhawks. Along with New York's Dan Carcillo, they are the only Ontarians that have a shot at repeating as champions.