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Regina author's new book examines Sask.'s once-dominant but now declining presence in the NHL

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Saskatchewan has always been proud of its deep roots in hockey and those from the province who have made it to the National Hockey League (NHL). However, a new book says there are now fewer players from the prairie province than ever before making it to “the show.”

Titled “A Whole New Game: Economics, Politics and the Transformation of the Business of Hockey in Canada,” author Neil Longley dedicates part of the book to exploring why at one point in time it was commonplace to have players from Saskatchewan on NHL rosters to why those numbers have declined to now its lowest point than ever before.

Longley, who shared some details of his book in a recent interview with CTV’s Cole Davenport, now lives in Las Vegas but was born and raised in Regina.

He documented that at one point in time, 26 per cent of all NHL players were from Saskatchewan.

That was during the 1950-51 season, a time Longley says Saskatchewan accounted for just six per cent of the country’s total population.

“In fact, Saskatchewan produced the second-most NHLers that season, trailing only Ontario, who produced 50 per cent more players than Saskatchewan, but whose population was 400 per cent larger,” Longley says in his book. “So, on a per capita measure, Saskatchewan was far and away the leading source of NHL talent.

WHY DID SO MANY SASK. PLAYERS 'MAKE IT'

According to Longley, one of the major reasons many Saskatchewan players made it all the way was the province’s cold climate.

“In an era before the proliferation of artificial ice, and where natural ice was the norm, Saskatchewan’s long, cold winters provided an inherent competitive advantage in producing hockey players.”

Longley says another attributing factor was the high rural population, with about 70 per cent of the province’s total population living on a farm or in a small town, much greater than in neighbouring Alberta and Manitoba who have similar climates.

Other than hockey, few outside recreational opportunities existed in winter in these rural Saskatchewan communities, and the sport flourished,” he wrote.

WHY ARE FEWER SASK. PLAYERS 'MAKING IT' TODAY?

Saskatchewan now accounts for only six per cent of Canadian NHLers, according to Longley.

The website quanthockey.com currently lists 19 active NHL players from Saskatchewan, the oldest being Saskatoon’s Luke Schenn born in 1989 and the youngest being 2004 born Kevin Korchinski who also hails from Saskatoon.

Longley says the answer to why fewer players from Saskatchewan are moving on to the NHL is complex and says that ultimately traditional geographical sources of talent became victims to the sea changes that occurred around them.

“Like most liberal democracies in the Western world, Canadian society has undergone a massive transformation since the mid-20th century. For hockey, changing demographics and economic factors in Canada have slowly but steadily shifted the source of talent within the country,” Longley says.

Seattle Kraken right wing Jordan Eberle pauses on the ice during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. The Coyotes won 4-3 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The large expansion of the NHL in the 1970s and the inception of the rival but now defunct World Hockey Association (WHA) as well as the arrival of more European players who changed the style of play are major reasons why fewer Saskatchewan-born players have been making it over the last number of decades, according to Longley.

Longley, who holds a PhD in economics from Washington State University is currently the director of business at Nevada State University.

“A Whole New Game: Economics, Politics and the Transformation of the Business of Hockey in Canada” is available now in stores and electronically.

The full conversation with Longley can be watched using the video player at the top of this story.

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