Summer is a time for whimsy, so I thought it would be fun to figure out which team is the best in all 50 states of the good ol’ USA. In some cases it was simple: Just mark down the local NHL team. In others not so much. For example, right off the hop you have Alabama. The state has a Division 1 college team in Alabama-Huntsville and a Southern Pro League team in the Huntsville Havoc. While the Havoc play in the low minors, they were a playoff squad. The Chargers, on the other hand, got wrecked last season, winning just two of 48 games. So I went with the Havoc.
The pecking order was pretty simple and based on last season’s standings: NHL, AHL, ECHL at the top, followed by the Central League, SPHL, college, major junior and the United States League. Other than Alabama, no judgement calls had to be made. The only exception to the standings rule was California. Yes, Anaheim had a better record in the regular season, but the Kings won the Stanley Cup and beat the Ducks in the playoffs. To the victors go the spoils.
Also, Hawaii was not included because according to USA Hockey, there are 19 registered players in the state and only 15 are adults.
In states where no pro, junior or Division 1 college team exist (there are eight), I chose the top NCAA club team. UNLV gets the nod in Nevada because the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers went dark after the season ended and won’t return until at least 2015-16.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the teams that rule, state by state:
Every year, hockey writer Chris Peters does some serious Yeoman’s work and crunches the raw data put out by USA Hockey regarding grassroots participation in the nation. In his latest post, Peters notes that the state of Arizona was one of the biggest gainers for 2013-14 and I would hazard to guess that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman feels pretty good about that.
As you will no doubt recall, Bettman has played a big part in keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix in recent years, even as many Canadian writers howled (see what I did there?) about bringing the franchise north, where attendance would be plentiful instead of pitiful.
NEW YORK, NY – Rangers fans already hate Dwight King thanks to his crease-interrupting abilities and the way they turned Game 2, but the big-bodied left winger came about his NHL career earnestly and developed under unique circumstances.
King, who is Metis, played his midget hockey in the Saskatchewan League with Beardy’s Blackhawks, the only program in Canada run by and based off a First Nations reserve. While the team is not exclusively made up of those with First Nations status, King estimated that the mix was about 50-50 during his playing days. Back then he followed in the footsteps of older brother D.J. King, who played in the NHL for both St. Louis and Washington.
NEW YORK, NY – For a city that boasts so many people, New York is surprisingly poor when it comes to developing hockey players. Sure, Joey Mullen has a great legacy, but in recent years, there haven’t been too many NHL prospects from the area.
Carolina pick Brett Pesce comes from Tarrytown, where the Rangers practice, while New Jersey prospect Steven Santini hails from the exurb of Mahopac. In the 2014 draft, fans can look for high-flying left winger Sonny Milano of Long Island, but there aren’t a ton of other big names.
Hall of Famer Mark Messier is beloved in New York thanks to his play and leadership in 1994, when he steered the Rangers to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 54 years. Now, he’s helping the grassroots in the city by working for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center project, which would bring nine rinks to a new complex developed from an old armory in the Bronx.
When you referee minor hockey for 11 years, you see some pretty crazy things.
I remember a tyke coach (tyke!) putting one foot up on the boards and shouting some mighty fine curse words at my partner and I, as the arena fell silent.
I remember a father of a novice player in a holiday tournament going off on me for having the audacity to call a tripping penalty, even though the coach of the team commented on how obvious it was. I wished the dad a Merry Christmas as I left the arena after the game.
And I remember some awfully big hitters in peewee and bantam – especially at the house league level – who didn’t know how to properly throw a hit at all. But they sure enjoyed crunching their opponents.
Hockey is an inherently dangerous game. From flying pieces of frozen rubber, to high-speed collisions intentional or not, there are a lot of ways to injure yourself on the ice even without body checking.
But with hitting, bad coaching – either by the coach of the team or by a misguided parent – can make these dangers much worse at the minor hockey level.
What’s the solution? Read more
The Ontario League’s Erie Otters went from doormat to powerhouse in a year thanks to a talented ensemble that included Connor Brown, Dane Fox, Andre Burakovsky and Adam Pelech. But the spotlight has always come back to phenom Connor McDavid. The top prospect for the 2015 draft knew about playing for a marquee team even before the Otters turned around thanks to his days with the minor midget Toronto Marlboros. As an underager, McDavid played on a squad that featured a murderers’ row of talent and went all the way to the OHL Cup final before losing to the Mississauga Rebels. Robby Fabbri, now of the Guelph Storm, was part of that Rebels team and he’s up for the draft this year, as are several former Marlboros.
I caught up with McDavid at the OHL Awards, where he took home trophies for sportsmanship and academics. Though top prospects have been known to check out the draft a year early just to scope out the scene, McDavid will not be going to Philadelphia. Instead, he plans on using his summer to get bigger and stronger with training guru Gary Roberts. In the meantime, I asked him to scout his buddies from that Toronto team that will be selected this summer.
It’s the question many casual fans are asking this morning – and the one Chicago Blackhawks fans would rather not hear about: Who is Alec Martinez?
Though he was the most anonymous member of the Kings blueline, Martinez now finds himself in the spotlight after tossing the game-winning shot on net in overtime as Los Angeles won its third straight Game 7 on the road:
He may not have the star power of Drew Doughty or the veteran experience of Matt Greene, but Martinez is slowly and surely finding his way in the NHL.
The Val-d’Or Foreurs of the Quebec League were the most surprising entry in this year’s Memorial Cup; a small-market team with a handful of NHL prospects, but certainly not packed with marquee names. Yet here they are, two games away from a national championship. As detailed in Sunaya Sapurji’s story for Yahoo! Sports, part of the success can be attributed to 30-year-old GM Alexandre Rouleau, who was just 28 when he got the job. Kyle Dubas was actually 25 when the Ontario League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds gave him the keys in 2011 and his team won the division this season.
So maybe it’s time I got a shot at running a team.