In every pro sport, a certain region or country dominates the game. When it comes to hockey, Canadian born players dominate the league. However, the likes of the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and several other countries have made a profound impact on the game. Now, more so than ever before, the game is booming overseas with the Russian, Swiss and Swedish leagues all flourishing.
Although the places of birth of players are generally places we’ve become accustomed to, there have been several instances of players joining the NHL who are from countries of the grid or away from the norm that the NHL is used to seeing. This article will highlight some of the most bizarre countries to be showcased on the NHL stage, with places like Jamaica, Brunei, Taiwan and Nigeria making apperances.
We should even give some honorable mentions to some players that didn’t make the list. These NHLers include Rick Chartraw from Venezuela, Chris Nielsen from Tanzania, Willi Plett from Paraguay, Andre Deveaux from The Bahamas and the great Darius Kasparaitis from Lithuania.
Let us know take a look at some other lesser known countries to be represented in the NHL. Here are 15 NHL players that were born in weird countries, enjoy!
15. Robyn Regehr: Recife, Brazil
His style of play, size and name indicated that he was a Western Canadian kid, but on the contrary, Regehr was actually born in Brazil. Known for its soccer prowess, Brazilian players have been few and far between in the history of hockey, although Robyn was not the first ever player from the country. That honor instead goes to Mike Greenlay. who was a goaltender drafted by the Oilers in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft.
Getting back to the former Calgary Flame, Robyn only spent nine months in Brazil. He split time in both Indonesia and Saskatchewan during his adolescence and by age seven, he permanently stayed in the Western Canadian province and pursued a career as a professional hockey player. Despite the fact that he started later than most, Regehr was able to blaze ahead of the others because of his size and smarts, which were demonstrated throughout his NHL career.
14. Leo Komarov: Narva, Estonia
Judging by his name, you’d think the Leafs forward was born in Russia, but he’s actually the first and only player in the league to hail from the great land of Estonia. How he chose to pursue a career in the NHL we’ll never understand, but Toronto fans are thankful he did, given his style of play and the effort he puts forward every night.
His parents were indeed Russian, hence the name, however he grew up in Finland, where he would fall in love with the game and later pursue a career to make the NHL. On the national stage, Leo had a choice to play for Russia or Finland and the forward chose to represent his Finnish roots. Komarov holds a rare dual citizenship with passports of Russian and Finnish decent.
13. Craig Adams: Seria, Brunei
Seriously though, his name is Craig Adams. Can you get anymore North American than that?
Well, despite his name and North American roots, Adams wad actually born in a lesser known country and is in fact the only NHLer to ever hail from Brunei. Most common folks aren’t even aware Brunei is even a country. The territory is located in Southeast Asia and holds a population of just above 400,000. To put that into perspective, that’s only a hundred thousand more than the city Adams previously played for in Pittsburgh, which holds a population of over 300,000.
Adams would go on to make some history at the draft by becoming the final player ever selected by the Hartford Whalers. He played as a grinder throughout his career and found some big time success with both Carolina and Pittsburgh, winning a Stanley Cup on both teams. He recently retired from the game in January of 2016.
12. Paul MacLean, Antoine Roussel, Xavier Ouellet: France
Yes, the French connection is quite strong in the NHL, with several players hailing from the country of love. The French invasion began in the 70s when Andre Peloffy was drafted by the Rangers in 1971.
We start with the most awkward name from France, although his epic mustache suddenly makes a lot more sense. Paul MacLean was born in France while his father was serving with the Canadian Armed Forces. His stay in the country was brief and he moved to Nova Scotia at the age of two.
Antoine Roussel and Xavier Ouellet are another pair of current NHLers born in France. Judging by their names and styles of play, you’d figure they were born in Quebec, but no sir! Roussel actually stayed in France for the majority of his youth before moving to Quebec at the age of 16. For the Wings d-man Ouellet, he was born in France but was raised in Terrebonne, Quebec.
11. Owen Nolan: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Thanks to the likes of Conor McGregor and various films, you can’t help but think of Irishmen as prototypical fighters or beer drinkers. As it turns out, Owen Nolan was both of those, but he also had another accomplishment in his repertoire; being a player in the NHL.
He was born in Belfast and brought his Irish roots over to Thorold, Ontario, the place he grew up in and played minor hockey. Right from the get go, Nolan was something special and became known for his dominant role as a power forward. This caused the Quebec Nordiques to go all-in during the 1990 Draft and select the player first overall. He enjoyed a great career which was mostly remembered for his seasons with the San Jose Sharks, where he became a 40-goal scorer. He finished his career off in the Swiss League and left a legacy in the NHL that will not go unnoticed when looking back at his journey.
10. Olaf Kolzig: Johannesburg, South Africa
A big misconception is that Olaf Kolzig was born in Germany. It was his parents who actually were born in Germany, which would lead to the goaltender representing the country on the international stage. Although he grew up in British Columbia, Canada, Kolzig never applied for a Canadian citizenship.
His actual place of birth is quite shocking and it’s a huge rarity for an NHL player to emerge from such a destination. Kolzig hails from Johannesburg, South Africa and is the only African-born skater to ever play in the NHL, a historical accomplishment to say the least. Kolzig enjoyed a tremendous run in the league, holding down the fort for the Caps throughout the mid 90s and into the early 2000s. His number still hasn’t been retired by the team and it remains to be seen if it’ll ever climb up the rafter. It’s shame if it doesn’t.
9. Evgeni Nabokov: Oskemen, Kazakhstan
Born in the birth place made famous by Borat, Evgeni Nabokov is a part of a select few NHLers who hail from the country. Before the goaltender, Konstantin Shafranov hailed from the same destination and was drafted by the Blues in 1996.
Evgeni holds a dual citizenship as a Kazakh-Russian. His story of making to the NHL is quite remarkable, as the story goes that North American scouts were actually overseas to take a look at his dad. His dad went by the name of “The Russian Wall” and ultimately Nabokov carried on that legacy as a late round pick, selected 219th overall by the San Jose Sharks in 1994. He enjoyed a terrific career as a Shark and is currently ranked 20th on the all-time list for regular season wins.
8. Ed Kea: Weesp, Netherlands
This is probably something you never knew about, but the Netherlands actually has roots in the NHL with 70s player Ed Kea.
The Dutch defenseman was born in Weesp, Netherlands, but grew up in Collingwood, Ontario, moving with his family at the age of four. During his youth, he played hockey and eventually his passion led to a career as an NHLer, enjoying a pretty lengthy career. He began as a member of the late Atlanta Flames organization and later joined the Blues. His career almost lasted a decade from 1974 to 1983. Fun fact, he’s also the uncle of NHL stars Jeff Beukeboom and Joe Nieuwendyk.
7. Richie Regehr: Bandung, Indonesia
Yes, this in fact the brother of Robyn, who we touched on earlier in this article. As we discussed, the family moved around a lot and Indonesia was one of their brief stops. Like his brother, the two would ultimately move and were raised in Rosthern, Saskatchewan.
Robyn’s little brother went undrafted, but managed to secure a deal alongside his brother with the Flames. The inking was quite historical, making Richie the first ever Indonesian hockey player in NHL history. He lasted only three games with the team before getting sent down to the AHL. Despite his short-comings, it must have been something to get the chance to play alongside his brother in the NHL. At the age of 33, Richie is still actively playing in the German League with EHC Red Bull Munchen.
6. Nelson Debenedet: Cordenons, Italy
We’re adding a bit of parmesan cheese to this article with Nelson DeBenedet. Born in a small Italian community that has a population of merely 18,433 inhabitants, Nelson would become the first ever player to lace the skates with a passport of Italian decent. The league has seen several players with Italian roots such as Tony Amonte, Tom Barrasso, Todd Bertuzzi and Nick Bonino just to name a few, but rarely has the league seen players actually born in Italy like DeBenedet.
He began his career with the Detroit Red Wings in 1973 going undrafted. The defenseman would also enjoy a short stint with the Penguins in the mid 70s. His final season came as a part of the Hershey Bears in the AHL during the 1975-76 campaign.
5. Rod Langway: Taipei, Taiwan
The great Rob Langway made history in more ways than one, joining the NHL as the first ever player to hail from Taiwan. His father was stationed in the country, but he would later grow up in the Massachusetts area.
What made his NHL journey so remarkable is the fact that he didn’t play till the age of 13, spending most of his time focused on baseball and football. He would ultimately rise to the occasion and become a massive prospect. He was drafted by the Habs in 1977 and would become a top tier defender, winning two Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman during his long run as a Washington Capitals player.
4. Rumun Ndur: Zaria, Nigeria
Coming all the way from Nigeria, Rumun Ndur entered the league in 1994, being selected by the Buffalo Sabres 69th overall. He was the first and only Nigerian born player to ever play in the NHL. He learned his craft growing up in Hearst, Ontario.
Throughout his NHL stint, Ndur played for three different clubs, which included the New York Rangers, Atlanta Thrashers and Buffalo Sabres. In 69 career NHL games, Ndur netted two goals and five total points. He was mostly known for his work as an enforcer ,picking up 137 penalty minutes in his short NHL stint.
The Nigerian would leave the league for good in 2002 following his AHL stint with the Nortfolk Admirals. He proceeded to play in Austria and spent the second half of his pro career throughout Europe playing in various leagues.
3. Graeme Townshend: Kingston, Jamaica
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Graeme Townshend managed to crack the NHL after going undrafted. He played in the league from 1990 to 1994 with the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. Although it truly is remarkable that he made the NHL being from Jamaica, it was his contributions after his NHL stint which are most noteworthy.
Townshend began as a coach following his NHL career and later joined the Sharks organization as their Player Development Coordinator. He would later join the Leafs in 2008 getting hired as the club’s skating coach.
2. Anze Kopitar: Jesenice, Slovenia
The Los Angeles Kings made some history in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft when they selected Anze Kopitar 11th overall. The pick had some major historical significance as the Kings captain became the first ever NHL player to hail from Slovenia.
He played junior hockey in his hometown of Jesenice, but later moved to Sweden at the age of 16, seeking greater competition. His decision proved to be the right one as Kopitar excelled in his junior stint. Anze’s success led to a high pick and one that the Kings most certainly do not regret. The player has turned into an elite NHL center winning two Stanley Cup Championships along with the Frank J. Selke Trophy and Lady Bing Trophy, which he won both last season. At the age of 29, the Slovenian still has a lot to offer to the Kings and his country is certainly proud of his accomplishments.
1. Yutaka Fukufuji: Kushiro, Japan
Who can forget the remarkable story of Yutaka Fukufuji and his less than likely NHL debut. Drafted by the Kings 238th overall, many believed the Japanese goaltender would never see a minute of NHL action, but that all changed one night due to one of the craziest turn of events you’ll ever see.
With the LA Kings stock piling injuries in net, Yutaka Fukufuji, who was the fifth string goalie at the time, was called up to the roster as an emergency backup. In his first appearance he did not play, but he did during his second call up on January 13th, 2007. With the Kings trailing 5-4 entering the third, Crawford made the historical decision to put the Japanese goalie between the pipes. The move made for some great theater, but the Kings would ultimately lose, going down 6-5. Yutaka was credited with the loss for giving up the game winning goal, the only one he let in. He would go on to start his first NHL game shortly after against the Atlanta Thrashers on January 16th, 2007. Although his run was short-lived, we’ll never forget the impact it had around the league.
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