The State of Hockey
In the United States, Minnesota truly is the "State of Hockey." In no other American state is hockey so ingrained in the community and in the minds of its residents.
Minnesotans tend to be in the majority on U.S. National teams and there are more Minnesotans in the NHL than residents of any other state.
"Ten thousand lakes doesn't hurt," Carolina Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said.
"Climate helps," offers Jack McCartan, the St. Paul native who played goalie on the 1960 U.S. Olympic gold-medal team and is now a scout for the Vancouver Canucks. "Minnesota also has good grass-roots organizations in the smaller communities and the Twin City suburbs. The kids get real good coaching and there's lots of ice time at a lot of rinks. Plus, we have the Minnesota Wild and several good college teams that the kids can watch to try to emulate the professional players."
In the last decade, hockey-player registrations have increased by more than 4,400, from 40,275 in 1994 to 44,675, said Mike MacMillan, USA Hockey's coach-in-chief of the Minnkota District. More than 10,000 Minnesota teens are playing high-school hockey, 6,276 boys and 3,922 girls. One author estimated about one in every 113 Minnesotans is on a hockey team. More than 100,000 people will watch the three-day, state high-school hockey tournament in March.
"We did a lot of outdoor skating. I was a rink rat and we had a rink behind our school," Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ben Clymer said. "I loved skating outdoors. I played for a couple years before I got into organized hockey. I took my skates to school and then to the rink and skated for a couple of hours. My parents would get us for dinner and then I'd go back for a couple more hours."
"When I grew up, hockey was just part of the fabric," said Joe Micheletti, who had three goals and an assist to lead Hibbing to the 1973 Minnesota High School Tournament title. Micheletti played on two of Herb Brooks' NCAA championship teams in 1974 and 1976. "Something had already been established prior to my being a part of it. We'd go two blocks down to the regulation rink and play ‘til later than we were supposed to. Every year, dad would make a rink. Later, my four brothers and I built it."
"In the United States, Minnesota is the closest you're going to get to having the atmosphere that Canada has in terms of enthusiasm in the community for hockey," said popular Minnesota Wild forward Jim Dowd, a New Jersey native. "People here love it from youth hockey all the way to the colleges and the pros. They live and die hockey in Minnesota. Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, the Range, there's no real difference. It doesn't matter where they're from. All over Minnesota, they love hockey."
Minnesota is the kind of place where hockey success can help get you elected governor, like Wendell Anderson, Minnesota's chief executive from 1970-76 and a member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. It's the only state where an incoming governor scheduled a hockey game as part of his inauguration as Tim Pawlenty did last January. The team led by Pawlenty, a junior varsity player at St. Paul Johnson High, beat Anderson's Old Timers, 6-2.
"The average teenage boy thinks about sex once every seven seconds; in Minnesota, he thinks about hockey the other six," wrote John Rosengren in his 2003 book, Blades of Glory, about the Jefferson High School team in Bloomington, Minn., a suburb south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Jefferson won five state championships between 1981-94 and produced NHL players Clymer, Mark Parrish, Tom Kurvers, Mike Crowley, Dan Trebil and Toby Petersen. "The state obsession grips us before puberty. The Farrah Fawcett poster on my bedroom wall was overshadowed by Bobby Orr's autographed likeness, a North Stars pennant, and a pair of crossed hockey sticks flanked by two 8 x 10 color photos, one of my older brother, one of me in my Squirts jersey -- a 10 -year-old beaming in his Bauers."
Hockey has been played for a long time in Minnesota and the state has always produced top talent. Moose Goheen was a great player in the St. Paul area before World War I and led the U.S. team to a silver medal at the first Olympic hockey tournament at St. Moritz in 1920. Goheen was widely sought by NHL teams in the 1920s, but stayed in Minnesota to further his business career while continuing to play local professional hockey. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 1952.
How it began
Iron-ore mining became a big industry in northern Minnesota in the 1880s, attracting thousands of immigrant workers whose sons took to skating and hockey. With nearly five months of skate-able ice, "The Range" became the home of Minnesota hockey for decades. Author Greg Anzelc described "an area identifiable by record-setting low temperatures and the ability to tune in a polka 24-7 on the radio."
Teams from Eveleth, Roseau, Duluth, Hibbing, International Falls, Grand Rapids and Warroad competed in leagues for all ages. Oldtimers remember there were only three rinks in the Twin Cities area so teams from the Range dominated state hockey. Cliff Thompson coached Eveleth and four of his players went on to NHL careers. Frankie Brimsek, Sam LoPresti and Mike Karakas made their marks as goalies and John Mariucci played five seasons on the Chicago Blackhawks' defense, interrupted by a three-year World War II hitch.
Little Roseau, population 2,700, has won six state tournaments and placed seven residents on U.S. Olympic teams, including Don Ross, who played in 1964 and 1968, and Neal Broten in 1980. The town's website opens with this sentence: The first thing that comes to mind when the name Roseau is mentioned is "Hockey".
U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Oscar Almquist compiled a 406-150-121 record from 1942-67 and won four state tournaments.
Warroad, population 1,722, has given Bill and Roger Christian from the 1960 gold-medal team. Bill's son, Dave, who was one of 12 Minnesotans on the 1980 gold-medal team; and Henry Boucha on the 1972 silver-medal team.
Boucha, who played for three NHL teams, was asked how the loss of the North Stars would affect Minnesota. He shrugged and said, "We still have Warroad-Roseau four times a year."