Answer to Map #97

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Answer: This week’s map depicted the birthplaces of every ice hockey player in the NHL who was active during the 2017–2018 season. The data used to make this map came from Hockey Reference.

Ice hockey, of course, was invented and developed in Canada, where it remains especially popular. More NHL players hail from Canada than from any other country. Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, produced 75 active NHL players. You may have noticed that most of the dots are in southern Canada. That’s because the overwhelming majority of Canada’s population lives very far south in the country.

But while Canada remains the single biggest source of NHL players, Canada’s overall share of active players continues to decline. That’s because hockey, like many other sports that are popular in North America, is becoming more and more international. Other cold countries where hockey is popular, such as Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic, are sending more and more players to play professionally in North America.

Another country that has sent many players to the NHL is Russia. In fact, some of the very best players in the NHL are Russian, including recent Stanley Cup winner Alex Ovechkin. But there are fewer dots on this map than you might expect, considering how popular hockey is in Russia. The reason is that Russia has a very strong professional hockey league of its own, called the KHL. The KHL has expanded into several other countries, including Slovakia, Latvia, Finland, and even China. Going forward, an elite player in one of those countries might or might not opt to join the KHL instead of the NHL.

In the United States, most hockey players come from cold areas where hockey is especially popular. That makes sense: you have more opportunities to practice the sport in places where it’s cold enough in the winter for the pond in your backyard to freeze over. The U.S. states that have supplied the most NHL players are Minnesota and Michigan. But the NHL has made a conscious effort in recent decades to expand to places with warmer climates as well. Last year, an expansion team in Las Vegas even reached the Stanley Cup finals in its first year of existence. As professional hockey catches on in places like Nevada, Florida, Arizona, and California, NHL executives hope that more and more young people in those areas will participate in youth hockey leagues. Perhaps in the future, there will be a more even distribution of dots throughout the U.S.

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