Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Minnesota: The State of Ho-Hum?

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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)

Championships

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

Conclusion

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.

10 comments:

buddhafisch said...

Excellent post. The one thing that needs to be said that wasn't, is that the "State of Hockey" is not a nickname adopted by the state. It is a marketing campaign undertaken by the Minnesota Wild. It plays on the passion for the game throughout the state, and is not a claim of being better than anyone else.

It is a tagline, no different than "The heartbeat of America" for Chevy in the 90's. Figuring that 90% of Chevy's vehicles are built outside the US, it is a bit of misnomer, no? It was a marketing campaign, intent on playing on the traditions, the belief systems of Americans. Chevy is an "American" name.

So, while I love the post, I just wanted to be clear that the Wild are responsible for it, and it is nothing more than a marketing campaign.

Guy Flaming said...

@ buddhafisch

Point taken about the Wild creating the slogan. That said, I did also write:

"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."

Which covers the end of your first paragraph, no?

Caroline said...

I think buddhafisch's point was that it's not MINNESOTA, the state, that made up the nickname, it's the WILD, the team.

And I most definitely think it has to do with the passion. I haven't spent a lot of time in the other places, but hockey is the way of life here.

I'm a transplant, so maybe it's even easier for me to see: people here ARE hockey. Even people who haven't ever played the sport, seem like hockey people. They have that hockey camaraderie with a little bit of toughness. And the people that are involved? That's everything.

Goon said...

Just for the record Unversity of North Dakota would be third on this list if they were included.

1. Michigan 19 (5 schools)
2. Massachusetts 10 (3 schools)
3. North Dakota (1 School)
4. Minnesota 5 (1 school)
5. New York 4 (2 schools)

robert said...

The Wild may have come up with the "State of Hockey (SOH)" slogan but the people in Minnesota have embraced it and anyone who says otherwise has never been inside the blue line that we painted around the border. Dig deeper into how many players from each state have been on the NCAA teams and you will see that although our teams have failed to win it most teams that do include kids from the SOH. I worked for years in Boston and when you fly into Boston and Minneapolis on a winter night it is easy to see the outdoor rinks. They define that in Minnesota hockey is not for an elite few prep school rich kids but is part of the fabric of the lives of the people who live here.

There are fine players, there are good coaches, nice teams, and strong programs all over the country but in Minnesota hockey is more a part of who we are than any other state. In truth I care more about my Sunday night league games or my kids games then the Stanley Cup or NCAA championship teams. Did I mention we have more adults that play the game then any other state (per USA hockey). If you added up my lifetime points and included youth hockey, street hockey, roller hockey, hs hockey, college inter-murals, beer league, and now old dude Sunday night hockey I think I would have "Great One" like numbers.

Good luck to Mass but there is no question that Minnesota is, was, and always will be the State of Hockey.

Guy Flaming said...

Good stuff Robert, love the passion!

Corey Pronman said...

I tend to agree with Robert, even if the Gophers are struggling as a NCAA program now and the Wild aren't exactly blowing the door down, there is no question in my mind where the home of US hockey is.

The Minnesota High School program is outstanding, no other low tier competetion league produces talent like they do. Bjugstad, Nelson, Holl, and Alt are just examples from this year's draft nevermind someone like Leddy from last year who already turned pro.

The passion and the hockey atmosphere in Minnesota is like nothing else I've seen in the US. I've never seen people grow up saying I want to play for the local NCAA team rather than say I want to play in the NHL. The tradition and dedication to hockey and their hockey community is incredible.

Mark-Ryan said...

Gotta say... not necessarily buying the argument that more successful Mass. programs and a more successful NHL franchise means that Minnesota has been usurped as the State of Hockey.

I mean, Minnesota supports High School hockey like nowhere else in the world. They've got the USHL, they've got defectors to the CHL... but it's still huge.

You could spend a week in Boston and never hear about the Bruins because they're a distant fourth to the Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox. I would be shocked if you could even track down a high school hockey program of any import, and while Boston College has been pretty good - that'd also be implying that Ohio has passed Minnesota because Miami University has been better too.

Plus, it bears mentioning that the Bruins have 4 Americans on their squad... 2 of them are from Minnesota, and none of them are from Massachusetts.

Guy Flaming said...

lol... good stuff Mark-Ryan

raventalon40 said...

It kind of makes sense that lower populations would have more hockey production.

Its not always true but usually true that higher populations are due to higher densities. In a place like New York, you will be hard pressed to find a local arena, compared to Minnesota. Without more grassroots support, it would be hard to compete with Minn.