Britain’s History in the NHL and their New Hope
As it stands, none of the 30 National Hockey League teams has a British player in their roster, and there hasn’t been one since Owen Nolan retired in 2010.
This is primarily down to there being very limited ice hockey facilities in the U.K., and the sport not being as popular as football, rugby or cricket. Although the Elite Ice Hockey League gets great attendances, their rosters are predominantly filled with foreign players.
But there is hope for the Brits as two U.K. born hockey players joined NHL franchises in the 2014 Draft.
Nathan Walker went in the 3rd round, 89th overall, to the Washington Capitals. He was born in Cardiff, is 21 years old, and plays left wing.
Going in the first round was Guildford’s own Brendan Perlini. The 6’2’’ left winger was snapped up by the Arizona Coyotes with the 12th overall pick.
The History of Brits in the NHL
Since the NHL expanded into the United States, and the Original Six were formed, there have been 68 British players taken on by the league’s franchises.
Of these 68, only 45 of them actually made the ice in the NHL and of those who played, only 25 made over 50 appearances in the league.
Two British players have been honoured in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Both played pre-World War II and both died before they were able to retire.
Englishman Joe Hall was introduced into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 for his achievements prior to the formation of the NHL. He did play in the NHL, for the Montreal Canadiens, and took them to the 1919 Stanley Cup finals.
Those Finals, however, were cancelled due to the Spanish Influenza outbreak which affected many players on the two Cup Final teams. Four days after the finals were cancelled, Hall passed away due to pneumonia, which was developed as a result of the influenza.
The other Brit was legendary Chicago Blackhawks net minder Charlie Gardiner. The Scot was the first right-handed keeper to win the Vezina Trophy, and he won the Stanley Cup in 1934.
In the last two seasons of his career, Gardiner suffered from a persistent tonsil infection which he played through. In his final season he kept 12 shutouts, 2 of which were in the playoffs, and carried the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup victory.
Unfortunately, two months after lifting the trophy, Gardiner went into a coma due to a brain haemorrhage brought on by the infection, from which he never awoke.
In recent times, only two men from the United Kingdom have made it big in the NHL. Northern Irishman Owen Nolan and Englishman Steve “Stumpy” Thomas racked up 2435 appearances and 1818 points between them.
Right winger Owen Nolan started his career as a first overall draft pick, selected by the Quebec Nordiques. But once they moved from their francophone home city to Denver, to become the Colorado Avalanche, he was traded away.
California’s San Jose Sharks swapped the Latvian first round defender Sandis Ozoliņš for Nolan, who now stars in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
Steve Thomas also played as a right winger for many teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders. He is currently serving as Steve Yzerman’s assistant coach at Tampa Bay Lightning.
The 38 British-born skaters average 205.6 games with 99.8 points in their NHL careers.
To put that into perspective, 27 year old Tommy Wingels, who was a 6th round pick by San Jose back in 2008, is on 98 points in 238 games, with plenty on years still left in him. He currently occupies San Jose’s 3rd line but has been involved in line 2 in past seasons.
British-born goalies, of which there are 7, average 164.1 games, 14.1 shutouts and a 2.89 goals against average.
Maple Leafs keeper, James Reimer, who is the same age as Wingels, has played 178, kept 11 shutouts with a GAA of 2.91. Reimer is currently in a goaltending committee during this Toronto rebuilding era.
Basically, British born players have proven to be very hit and miss, with only 25/68 of them playing over 50 games in the NHL, and only a handful of them being considered successful.
Born in Britain, Bred in Canada
It’s no surprise that the vast majority of NHL players, with British origin, were merely born in Britain and moved to Canada or the United States, where they were then developed into top hockey players.
A major problem for hockey players in the UK is that there isn’t a decent structure for developing young players (which they are currently trying to improve with an U20’s division). It also doesn’t help that the EIHL is dominated by imported professionals from American and Canadian minor leagues.
The aforementioned contemporary British-born greats in the NHL, Owen Nolan and Steve Thomas, both declared their national team as Canada.
Top prospect Brendan Perlini moved to Canada when he was 11 years old. His father, Fred Perlini, had previously played in the NHL and was playing for the Guildford Flames in the EIHL, prior to the move back to The Great White North.
The 2014 12th overall pick credits the English methods for helping his early development.
In an interview with NHL.com, Brendan Perlini spoke of his early career in the land of our Queen and how the intensive training helped him develop:
“It’s a little different. Obviously growing up over there it’s not the biggest hockey market. We practiced a ton.
“It was a complete opposite to how they do it over here where you play a lot of games.”
“We played 18 league games and practiced four times a week. If you’re good enough, I played up a couple groups and played for the England team so there were definitely a lot of games played and a lot of different teams in which you could play on.
“I think the career over there definitely helped me and it adds a little international experience to my resume, I guess you could say.”
Perlini gained recognition when he moved to Canada and was a 1st round pick in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection by the Barrie Colts.
The other British-born prospect in the 2014 draft, Nathan Walker, grew up in Australia and played his junior hockey Down Under and in the Czech Republic.
Walker claims to have gained inspiration to play from watching the films The Mighty Ducks and Mystery, Alaska.
What to expect from the top prospect
We will focus on Brendan Perlini again here, as although Nathan Walker was born in Wales, he spent very little time there and did all of his hockey development in Australia and the Czech Republic.
Being picked 12th overall is enough to brand Perlini as a very exciting top prospect. The then Phoenix Coyotes used their first pick to bring in the Guildford-grown forward, and have tempered him very well.
The Coyotes have been very careful with their recent picks, ensuring that they are definitely NHL ready before they bring them up to the first team.
The Yotes patience is already paying dividends with rookies like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair (who was traded in from the Rangers) and Jordan Martinook all coming into the team. Domi and Duclair have made a huge impact already, with the pair having 15 points between them after just 7 games.
It is believed that Brendan Perlini will be competing for a first team spot after spending another term with the Niagara Ice Dogs. He’s in great hands with Arizona and will only be brought up when they know that he’ll be successful.
Coach Dave Tippett liked how Perlini played during the team’s rookie camp, but felt he needed a bit more time before he could replicate his performances in the NHL.
He wears number 11 for the Ice Dogs, has 5 goals and 3 assists in 8 games, and is playing alongside highly rated speedster Josh Ho-Sang of the New York Islanders.
Brendan Perlini possesses all of the attributes and potential to make it big in the NHL and will make England proud.
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