Sharks, Ducks, Kings turning California into hockey central

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

The NHL's three California-based teams have taken the league by storm this season. (USATSI)
The NHL's three California-based teams have turned their home state into hockey's center this season. (USATSI)

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Hockey may be Canada's game historically, but this season it is owned by the state of California. All three of the NHL's three California-based teams – the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and LA Kings -- have been among the league's best throughout the year. Each is the owner of one of the seven best records in hockey.

The Sharks are second overall in the league with an 18-3-5 record, while Anaheim sits third overall – just one point behind San Jose – with an 18-7-4 mark. The Kings are just three points from the Sharks with a 17-7-4 record, good for seventh overall in the NHL. This trio may have a stranglehold on the top three in the Pacific Division, which would guarantee each a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Things really couldn't get any better in California at this point. The “non-traditional” hockey state is outperforming all of Canada's seven NHL entries and the only other state with three teams, New York. That probably doesn't sit too well with those folks in colder climates.

The teams in the Golden State aren't just good, though. When it comes to the Sharks and Ducks in particular, they've been dominant. That's especially true when playing at home. The Ducks have not lost once in regulation at home in 11 games. They've taken a possible 21 of 22 points at Honda Center. Meanwhile, the Sharks are 10-1-2 in San Jose. Near unbeatable.

The Kings have been drawing the biggest crowds in the state with an average attendance of 18,118 at Staples Center and have posted a 9-4-2 record at home.

Additionally, nearly 30 percent of the NHL's top 25 scorers are California-based. Led by Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf's 31 points, which slots him fourth in the league, six other local players have been among the most productive in the NHL this season – Corey Perry (29 points), Joe Thornton (29), Logan Couture (27), Patrick Marleau (26), Joe Pavelski (25) and Anze Kopitar (24).

The state is also home to the likely front-runner for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. San Jose's Tomas Hertl has been a revelation in his first season in North America. The 20-year-old Czech Republic native leads all rookies with 13 goals and 21 points. He also is the owner of one of the season's best highlights.

In net, the Sharks boast a Vezina finalist from a season ago in Antti Niemi, who is turning in another solid campaign. The Ducks have dealt with a litany of injuries, but it doesn't seem to matter who they throw in net these days. Still, Danish rookie Frederik Andersen has been incredible when called upon and veteran Jonas Hiller has continually given his team a chance to win despite Viktor Fasth, who has been nursing injuries, being the presumed starter coming into the year.

In LA, one of the league's better stories is blossoming as Ben Scrivens has been otherworldly in his filling in for the injured Jonathan Quick.

Scrivens has posted a staggering .943 save percentage in 15 games this year, which is the best of any goalie with 10 or more appearances. He has given his team a shot, even stealing a few games, despite being without the goaltender that led the Kings to back-to-back deep postseason runs, one ending with the Stanley Cup.

Each of the three teams is averaging better than 30 shots on goal per game, while San Jose and Anaheim are averaging more than three goals per outing this season. They're not just good, they're entertaining, too.

It's showing in the attendance as well. Both the Kings and Sharks are averaging capacity crowds for their games this season, which put each in the top 17 league-wide. The Ducks are playing to an average crowd of 15,551, or 90.6 percent of capacity.

They may be modest numbers, but the remarkable play of each team is consistently bringing fans to the building.

It's not just the NHL that's turning California into more of a hockey state, either.

The Ontario Reign have the best record in the ECHL at 14-2-1-3, while the Stockton Thunder is the third-best club in the Western Conference.

The amateur hockey ranks are booming, too. Last season, the state boasted 24,126 amateur hockey players (youth and adult) registered with USA Hockey, the national governing body for the sport. That was a record high in a year national numbers were down and representative of 36.5 percent growth over the last decade. That vastly out-paced the national average for 10-year growth.

When teams in non-traditional areas play like the Sharks, Ducks and Kings have, it only helps the NHL's product. It drives fan interest and increases the league's foothold in each market. Each of these teams is giving fans reasons to care.

Hockey will never be as popular in California as it is in Canada or some other U.S. states, but what is happening with the local NHL teams this season is special.

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