Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NHL Fire in Lieu of the Lockout, Round 3: The American Snipers

With the Lockout well underway and no end in sight, SBz brings you a series entitled NHL Fire in Lieu of the Lockout. This series serves to fill the void that is missing in our hockey-less lives, as well as to influence the powers that be - to remind them that it is the fans, not the players, who are truly locked out.

Talks are set to continue this week, as fans grudgingly await progress in the CBA negotiations. Talks however, are "not expected to cover economics or system issues this week." - Or as we like to refer to as - "blah blah blah." It is with that in mind that we bring you Round 3 of NHLFILOTL: The American Snipers.

The United States may be the home of the National Hockey League, but the nation hardly has a history of producing the game's best players. Until recent generations, Canada has been the exclusive home of NHL All-Stars. It wasn't until the mid-'80s when American-born players began to climb the ranks into the league's elite. Even since then, only four American-born players have entered the 500 goal club, compared to Canada's 32. They have become known as The American Snipers. (At least, on this blog.)

Joe Mullen - 502 Career Goals 

Every revolution needs a leader, and Joe Mullen was the first great American goal scorer. Having grown up in in Manhattan, Mullen learned to play the game on roller skates in the playgrounds of Hell's Kitchen. Before beginning his NHL career, Mullen broke goal scoring records at Boston College. The St. Louis Blues would be the first team to which Mullen would showcase his elite scoring talent. After being called up mid-way through the 1981-82 season, Mullen would score his first two NHL goals just eight seconds apart.

Mullen would step into the spotlight after a 1986 trade to the Calgary Flames, when he led the team to the finals (they lost to the Montreal Canadians). He would eventually have his best season in 1988-89, reaching the 50 goal plateau and leading Calgary to a Stanley Cup Championship. He would later join the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he would regularly appear on the same line as Mario Lemieux. In one two-game span, he had consecutive four-goal games. Joe would win two more cups with the Penguins, and in his last season in the NHL, achieved his crowning moment:

Jeremy Roenick - 513 Career Goals

Jeremy Roenick would represent the next generation of American sharp-shooters, breaking in with the Chicago Blackhawks in the late '80s. The Boston native would make his All-Star debut in the '90-'91 game, also his first 40 goal season. Roenick would go on to play 20 NHL seasons for the Blackhawks, Coyotes, Flyers, Kings, Phoenix again, before ending his career with one last attempt at Cup glory with San Jose. That bid fell short, but Roenick did contribute enough to reach 500 in his career, his 500th being his most unusual:

Keith Tkachuk - 538 Career Goals 

As the '90s progressed, the Americans were improving presence in the league. After his first full season in the league, Keith Tkachuk, of Melrose, Massachusetts was named captain of the Winnipeg Jets in 1993. Keith would remain the face of the franchise through their move to Phoenix in 1996. It was that year when he became the first American to lead the NHL in goals scored, with 52. He might have scored more, had he not spent 228 minutes in the Penalty Box. Tkachuk would play the second half of his career in St. Louis, where he would cement his legacy.

Mike Modano - 561 Career Goals

The undisputed greatest American-born hockey player of all time is Mike Modano, of Livonia, Michigan. He played 20 of his 21 season with the Dallas Stars organization beggining in 1989 while the team was still in Minnesota. That year he would be a finalist for the Calder trophy, although he would lose out to 31-year-old Soviet player Sergei Makarov (As Americans began to increase their presence in the league, the Soviets would also try their hand in North America). If you exclude Modano's injury-shortened '95-'96 campaign, Modano would have scored at least 20 goals in his first 13 years in the league.

The greatest moment of Modano's career came in 1999, when he helped lead the Dallas Stars to the franchse's only Stanley Cup, assisting on Brett Hull's infamous "So what if my foot was in the crease" Cup-clinching goal in triple overtime of Game 6 against Buffalo. Modano would tie a bow on a hall of fame career on March 13th, 2007 in a game against Philadelphia:

Just four days later, Modano would add numbers 502 and 503, passing Joe Mullen for most by an American, a record he still holds, and will hold for a while. Brian Rolston (38) is the active leader among Americans with 342, followed by Mike Knuble (39) with 274.

So what young Americans will join this list of the NHL's elite goal scorers? Patrick Kane appears to be the favorite to be the next one, with 126 at just 23 years. Don't sleep on Zach Parise, who has 194 through age 27. One thing is for sure, they'll never reach greatness if they never play the game.


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