Earlier this week, the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman surprised the hockey-loving world by presenting the locked-out NHL players with their first reasonable contract offer to date. Thus, while no one expected that offer to dissolve the impasse entirely, it seemed like it might move negotiations along and possibly salvage a full, 82-game season.
Of course, yesterday the NLHPA presented Bettman with three counteroffers, and let’s just say he was not impressed. So it looks like the NHL lockout won’t be ending this week after all, and we here in destined to go at least a few more months without hockey.
Obviously, that sucks for us. However, for many other countries across Europe, that’s fantastic news. Because you see, while they are locked out, a vast number of NHLers have decided to play in the various European leagues to keep their skills sharp and be ready when the NHL does resume.
And they didn’t all just head to the obvious destinations, like Russia, the Czech Republic, or Sweden. Some of them went to some countries you might not expect—and that just so happens to be the topic of today’s list: random countries where you can still watch NHLers play hockey. So, North American hockey fans, sit back and get ready to be jealous of placed like Latvia for the first time in your life.
Registered hockey players: 1 per 501 people
NHL Players: Kaspars Daugavins (Ottawa Senators)
Latvia actually is actually a little hockey hotbed. There are only 4,420 registers players in the country, but the population is only a little over 2 million. So that puts Lativa 6th in the world in terms of the percentage of the population that plays hockey.
To put it in perspective, here's a list of the top 5 hockey playing countries in the world, plus the United States, which ranks 7th:
Canada – 1 hockey player per every 61 people
Finland – 1 hockey player per every 83 people
Czech Republic – 1 hockey player per every 104 people
Sweden – 1 hockey player per every 153 people
Switzerland – 1 hockey player per every 306 people
United States – 1 hockey player per every 628 people
So, like I said, Latvia is a tiny little hockey-loving country. But the keyword there is tiny. Therefore, the only NHLer playing there during the lockout is Ottawa's Kaspars Daugavins. You can see him play in Riga for Dinamo Riga of the KHL. And yes, he is from Latvia.
Registered hockey players: less than 1 per 2,060 people
NHL Players: Jan Mursak (Detroit Red Wings)
Slovenia doesn't even have 1,000 registered hockey players. However, there is one pro hockey team in Ljubljana: HDD Telemach Olimpija Ljubljana. Olimpija plays in the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, a.k.a., the Austrian hockey league, which is either the third- or fourth-best league in the world after the NHL and the KHL. (The other contender would be Switzerland's National League A.) During the lockout, in you happen to be passing through Ljubljana, you can watch native Slovenian Jan Mursak play.
Registered hockey players: 1 per 2,162 people
NHL Players: Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota Wild), Evander Kane (Winnipeg Jets), Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks)
Belarusians may not play a lot of hockey themselves, but they do have a KHL team—namely, Dinamo Minsk. During the lockout, Dinamo has not one but three NHLers on their roster, and they aren't just some NHL journeymen who bounce up and down between the NHL and AHL. They've got Finnish goalie Backstrom, Canadian winger Kane, and American center Pavelski. That's a pretty good haul for Minsk.
Registered hockey players: 1 per 2,827 people
NHL Players: Christian Ehrhoff (Buffalo Sabres), Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars), Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers), Danny Briere (Philadelphia Flyers), Chris Stewart (St. Louis Blues), Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia Flyers), T.J. Galiardi (San Jose Sharks), Marcel Goc (Florida Panthers), Dennis Seidenberg (Boston Bruins)
Hockey definitely seems to be growing in Germany. Still, while 28,932 registered hockey players seems like a lot compared to tiny to the couple thousand in the other countries we've seen so far, Germany is a country with over 80 million people. So that works out to just 1 hockey player per 2,827 residents.
Nevertheless, Germany's top pro league, the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, is going pretty strong and features the most North American players of any league outside North America. And this, more than anything, probably explains why 9 NHLers—only two of whom are German—chose to play in Germany (on 6 different teams) during the lockout.
Registered hockey players: 1 per 4,225 people
NHL Players: Nikolai Antropov (Winnipeg Jets), Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Sacha Baron Cohen had a little fun at poor Kazakhstan's expense with Borat, but you have to remember that this country used to be a part of the Soviet Union. So of course they would have an appreciation for hockey. It's just that not many of the country's 16 million people actually play it.
Still, the fact that Kazakhstan's KHL team, Barys Astana, managed to snag the most famous NHLer from Kazakhstan (Nik Antropov) isn't surprising. But what is surprising is that they also managed to snag Sweden's Victor Hedman, who you would have thought would have been a lock to play in his own home country.
Registered hockey players: less than 1 per 4,290 people
NHL Players: Dustin Jeffrey (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Like Slovenia, Croatia has fewer than 1,000 registered hockey players. However, they do have a team in the Austrian league in Medvescak Zagreb, and they made headlines around the world by hosting two games in an ancient Roman coliseum. Also, they managed to snag themselves part-time NHLer in 24-year-old Pengiuns forward Dustin Jeffrey. (He's played 51 games with Pittsburgh over the last two seasons.)
Registered hockey players: 1 per 10,197 people
NHL Players: Alexei Ponikarovsky (Winnipeg Jets), Ruslan Fedotenko (Philadelphia Flyers), Anton Babchuk (Calgary Flames)
You might think that, being a big country that was formerly part of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine would be pretty big hockey country. However, you would be wrong. Of the country's 45 million people, only 4,500 are registered hockey players. However, the country's only KHL team, HC Donbass, did manage to sign three native Ukranian to play for them during the lockout. So, if you're a hockey fan and you happen to find yourself in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, you're in luck.
Registered hockey players: 1 per 12,703 people
NHL Players: Drew Miller (Detroit Red Wings), Anthony Stewart (Carolina Hurricanes), Matt Beleskey (Anaheim Ducks)
I don't know about you, but I only found out they had pro ice hockey in the UK like last week, and when I did I was pretty surprised.
It turns out that I was right to be surprised. In the entire UK, which covers, England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, only 4,901 people play hockey. And yet, during the lockout, you can find three NHLers player there in the Elite Ice Hockey League. Detroit forward Drew Miller is playing for Braehead Clan in Renfrew, Scotland; Carolina forward Anthony Stewart is playing for the Nottingham Panthers in Nottingham, England; and Anaheim forward Matt Beleskey is playing for the Coventry Blaze in Coventry, England.
2. United Kingdom
Registered hockey players: 1 per 16,660 people
NHL Players: Wojtek Wolski (Washington Capitals)
Despite the fact that only 1 in 16,660 Poles play ice hockey, there is nevertheless a professional league there called the Polska Liga Hokejowa. And that team was the obvious choice for Poland native Wojtek Wolski when the NHL owners locked out the players. He joined KH Sanok in Sanok, Poland. Sure, their arena only has a capacity of 3,100 people. But Wolski used to play for the Panthers. So he's used to small crowds.
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