By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — An event starts Wednesday that could only happen in Minnesota: High school kids sell out a professional hockey arena for their state championship tournament.

So, what makes Minnesota the state of hockey? Good Question.

Hockey started in Canada in the mid-1800s. Immigrants brought the sport to the Iron Range in the late 1800s when they moved there to work in the mines.

More than 100 years later in 2019, 57,634 Minnesotans are registered with USA Hockey. Number 2 is New York at 50,103 and number 3 is Michigan at 48,739. Those two states are far more populous than the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Perhaps it’s the cold weather, frozen lakes, almost 23,000 rinks (also number one), or five Division I college teams. It could also be the sense of community and friendship hockey can bring.

(credit: CBS)

“We’re buddies, we’ve been buddies forever. Whenever we had free time, we had the parents bring us out to the rink,” said Tommy Broten, a senior with number-one-ranked Mahtomedi.

Most Minnesotans have heard two-thirds of the “Miracle on Ice” team was from Minnesota, or that the Wild has sold out every home game since 2013. But NHL analyst and former Minnesota North Star Brian Lawton says plenty of hockey’s popularity in the state comes down to the high school tournament.

“I’ve been everywhere, I’ve recruited kids at all these levels, and nothing comes close to the excitement and thrill of what goes on at the Xcel,” Lawton said. “It’s the equivalent of Friday night lights in Texas or basketball in California or Florida or out east.”

Of the Americans playing in the NHL, 17-percent are from Minnesota. Second is Michigan with 10-percent.

When it comes to Division I hockey, Minnesota has 157 women playing this season, which is the same as number-two Massachusetts and number-three New York combined. For men, it’s 193 Minnesotans, compared to 154 from Michigan and 104 from Massachusetts.

And though Minnesotans love hockey here, fewer kids play compared to other high school sports. Hockey doesn’t even crack the top ten when it comes to participation numbers. For girls, number one is track and field. For boys, it’s football.

Heather Brown