Minnesota has a few nicknames: The Land of 10,000 Lakes. The Gopher State. The North Star State. The coolest nickname the 32nd State has though is "The State of Hockey". With a NHL franchise, 5 Division I NCAA hockey programs and a rabid high school hockey following, the moniker seems to make a lot of sense.
But does history back up Minnesota's claim to the title as "The State of Hockey"?
Certainly the grassroots of hockey in the State are extremely strong. There are (according to this site) 157 high school teams in Minnesota and players we have spoken with, like Oiler properties Troy Hesketh and Tyler Pitlick, suggest the passion for the sport at that level is not all that different than high school football in Texas. Think along the lines of "Friday Night Lights" but at your local rink.
"It's a pretty big deal," said Pitlick, "The State tournament has always got 18,000 people filling the XCel Energy Center up. There's great tradition and it was a lot of fun." The picture below is from the 2009 Minnesota State Championship game.
"Every kid in Minnesota dreams of playing on the Varsity team for their high school," echoed Hesketh. "People kind of underestimate it."
Scouts sure don't underestimate it though. A growing number of players are being drafted right from the high school ranks like Hesketh was in 2009 and players such as Nick Bjugstad, Brock Nelson, Zach Budish, Jake Gardiner and Nick Leddy in recent years.
Renowned prep school Shattuck-St.Mary's is also located in the State and has helped develop local and imported talent over the years like Zach Parise, Jack Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby.
No State has produced more NHL players than Minnesota but the bigger question is whether or not Minnesota is producing the best NHL talent in the United States. Surprisingly, the answer is NO... and it's not really even that close.
Where They Come From
Hockey is a growing sport across the United States as anyone can see by checking out the birthplaces of players making up leagues like the USHL. More and more we are seeing guys coming from non-traditional hockey markets like Texas, Nevada, Missouri, Ohio, Florida, Colorado and arguably the most untapped area California.
To this point in time though, there have been 4 States that have produced enough NHL talent to be considered for the title of "The State of Hockey":
1. Minnesota 204
2. Massachusetts 166
3. Michigan 122
4. New York 86
These numbers come from Hockey-Reference.com and are based on birthplaces so won't take into account a player born in one State who grows up in another one. For example, T.J. Oshie hails from Washington State but his path to the NHL saw him playing high school hockey in Warroad Minnesota.
Of those four States, Minnesota ranks forth by population followed by Massachusetts, Michigan and New York in that order from smallest to largest. It's interesting to note that the lists side by side would be flipped - the least populated has produced the most hockey players and the most populated has produced the least.
On the surface, that could be considered a win for Minnesota as "The State of Hockey". However, quantity doesn't outweigh quality and that is where the real difference can be found.
Of the 204 NHL players from Minnesota, how many do you think have gone on to record 1000 points in the league? Keep in mind that this is in the all-time history of the sport. The answer is only ONE: Phil Housley who retired with 1232 career points.
By comparison, Massachusetts has two (Jeremy Roenick 1216 and Keith Tkachuk 1065), Michigan two (Mike Modano 1359 and Doug Weight 1024) and even New York has one (Joey Mullen 1063).
So despite the fact that the State has produced more NHL talent, Minnesota actually lags behind both Massachusetts and Michigan for impact players. In fact, a top-10 listing based on points of players from just those 4 states would see only 3 Minnesotans on it.
1. Mike Modano, MI 1359
2. Phil Housley, MN 1232
3. Jeremy Roenick, MA 1216
4. Keith Tkachuk, MA 1065
5. Joey Mullen, NY 1063
6. Doug Weight, MI 1024
7. Neal Broten, MN 923
8. Tony Amonte, MA 900
9. Bill Guerin, MA 856
10. Dave Christian, MN 773
You'll notice that Massachusetts has more mentions on this list too.
Maybe we're being to narrow in our expectations. If we expand to include players with even just 500 points in their NHL careers, then what would the breakdown look like?
1. Massachusetts - 8 players
2. Minnesota - 7 players
3. Michigan - 6 players
4. New York - 4 players (5 with Todd Marchant who is 10 points shy)
All four States are home to a number of NCAA Division I hockey programs. If we looked at the all-time record for NCAA Frozen Four titles by State the results would be:
1. Michigan 19 (5 schools)
2. Massachusetts 10 (3 schools)
3. Minnesota 5 (1 school)
4. New York 4 (2 schools)
But perhaps using all-time records isn't reflective of where things are today. Let's just look at the last 20 years (1991-2010) and for a better measure of success in that time, we'll include both the champions and the other team in the finals as well. So in order of National Championship games over the last 20 years:
1. Massachusetts 13 (5 wins including the last 3)
2. Michigan 7 (6 wins)
3. Minnesota 2 (2 wins)
4. New York 0
At the NHL level the original six teams obviously hold an unfair historical advantage. But if we only consider the years from 1967-2010 and take out the 6 years ('93/'94 - '99/'00) between the North Stars move to Dallas and the birth of the Wild, how would that result look?
1. Boston 7 appearances, 2 wins
2. Detroit 3 appearances, 2 wins (results doubled in that 6 year area)
3. New York 2 appearances, 0 wins (but won in 1994)
4. Minnesota 2 appearances, o wins
This little exercise was done more out of curiosity than to prove a point, and it was also done with tongue somewhat planted in cheek.
Assuming Minnesota adopted the nickname as more of a reflection of the passion that its populace has for the sport as opposed to its "domination" of it, then it still makes sense.
From those we've spoken with on the show whether they are players, coaches, scouts or media... Minnesota's love for hockey is probably unrivaled anywhere outside of Canada.
However, if the nickname was taken on as a claim that it is the #1 State in the country when it comes to production, development, success and championships... then it might be time for Minnesota to admit defeat. Judging from the evidence, these days the real State of Hockey is Massachusetts.