Another hockey season is upon us. As NHL training camps open, many hockey players across the country, young and old, are registering for yet another season in the amateur ranks of the sport in the United States. In all likelihood, there will be more players from the mini mites to old-timers playing hockey in this country than ever before.
Utilizing USA Hockey’s public playing membership numbers, American hockey participation has been on a precipitous rise since the early 1990s. When looking at the numbers over a 20-plus-year span, the growth is rather remarkable. However, it is just as impressive when looking at a shorter window.
In the early 1990s, there was much more room to grow. As demand for the game grew, so did the number of facilities, which allowed hockey to flourish in the United States. Though the potential for growth stalled during an economic downturn, hockey didn’t stop moving forward.
After reviewing 20-year growth in 2010 (here and here), I decided to take another look at how hockey has fared over the last decade (using the 11 seasons between 2002-03 and 2012-13) and also broke it down into a five-season span (2008-09 to 2012-13).
Coming up after the jump, a look at hockey participation in each state since 2002-03.
Editor’s Note (Updated for clarity, 9/13): All statistics have been taken from USA Hockey’s annual public membership statistics. You can peruse them for yourself here. These statistics are for all levels of amateur hockey, which includes adult leagues as well as women’s and girls’ hockey. For reference, in 2013, nearly 70 percent of USA Hockey’s playing membership was boys and girls under the age of 18 and thus classified a “youth” player.
Though USA Hockey’s membership is representative of the largest number of players in the United States, the numbers are not totally comprehensive as some adult and high school leagues are not USA Hockey affiliated. There are also some youth leagues affiliated with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and not USAH. Players in those leagues, in all likelihood are not USA Hockey-registered. Seeing as the vast majority of players are indeed registered with the national governing body, however, these numbers provide a strong representation of where hockey participation stands in this country. It is important to note that these numbers are not meant to be taken as the official number of hockey players nationwide, rather an extremely close representation.
In 1990-91, USA Hockey’s national membership stood at 195,125 players. In just 10 years, that number ballooned to 439,140 in 2000-01. Just last season, USA Hockey boasted 510,279 members, the second most all-time and just under 1,000 less than the record 511,178 set in 2011-12.
Despite the economic downturn over the last decade in the United States, hockey has hit more peaks than endured valleys. This all despite the fact hockey can be a cost-prohibitive sport. More is being done to make the game more affordable and accessible, which has helped.
The success of the NHL has also led to a bump in membership. In areas like Western Pennsylvania, Chicago, the Potomac Valley, California and Texas, hockey is flourishing thanks in part to an NHL presence. Additionally, the fruits of the league’s expansion to the south has helped bring hockey to more areas than ever before, building a solid base of playing membership.
More than anything, however, the growth can be traced back to the tireless work from volunteers at the grass-roots level. Providing programs for kids of all ages and skill levels is opening doors like never before. USA Hockey has also come up with several strong initiatives that have helped facilitate growth as well.
After decades of niche status, the game at the youth level is becoming more mainstream in more locales throughout the country. As the number of players grow, so too should the quality of play, which in turn could provide better results at the NHL and international levels.
That’s all well and good, but most importantly, this is a sport that is infiltrating the American conscience in ways not previously thought possible. It still has a long way to go, but these numbers provide a strong indication hockey is headed in a very positive direction in the United States.
As mentioned, all numbers come from USA Hockey’s official membership record. All states are listed in alphabetical order. The numbers provided include total player registration statistics for three separate seasons, 2002-03, 2008-09 and 2012-13. The list also includes total growth between 2002-03 and 2012-13 (listed as Ten-Year Growth, though technically 11 seasons) as well as from 2008-09 to 2012-13 (listed as Five-Year Growth), along with percentage of increase for each.
For some states, I’ll provide a little extra context and some additional thoughts as well.
2002-03 Membership: 922
2008-09 Membership: 1,020
2012-13 Membership: 1,203
Ten-Year Growth: 281 (30.4%)
Five-Year Growth: 183 (17.9%)
Ten-Year Growth: 969 (12.9%)
Five-Year Growth: 104 (1.2%)
Ten-Year Growth: -824 (-16.6%)
Five-Year Growth: 124 (3.09%)
Notes: The hey-day of hockey in Arizona in terms of hockey participation came soon after the arrival of the Coyotes. It peaked in 2001-02 at 5,538 players, but has been a bit of a roller coaster ride since. The turmoil of Coyotes ownership probably hasn’t helped endear the sport to many new players. The state has experienced three consecutive seasons of growth, however, despite the team looking like it was on the brink of being moved. With the Coyotes ownership stabilized, perhaps there’s an opportunity to advance the game even further.
Ten-Year Growth: -53 (14.3%)
Five-Year Growth: 124 (79.5%)
Ten-Year Growth: 6,455 (36.5%)
Five-Year Growth: 3,746 (18.38)
Notes: Wayne Gretzky’s trade to LA helped lay the foundation and a gigantic hockey boom in the early 1990s, but California has continued on a path to becoming a real hockey state over the last decade. It has the seventh highest hockey-playing population in the country as of 2012-13. The 24,126 registered players last season was an all-time record for the state.
Ten-Year Growth: 2,180 (14.2%)
Five-Year Growth: -117 (-0.87%)
Notes: Colorado isn’t often thought of among strong hockey states, but it has been. Surprisingly enough, the playing membership has fluctuated a lot over the last 10 years. The state lost more than 1,000 players from 2011-12 to 2012-13, after posting a record high of 14,474 registered in 2011-12, which really altered the 10-year and five-year numbers.
Ten-Year Growth: 1,624 (13.88%)
Five-Year Growth: 1,589 (13.54%)
Notes: For more than a decade, Connecticut was stagnant, hovering between 11,500 and 11,800 playing members. That changed in 2009-10 as membership started to pick up a bit. In 2011-12, a record 13,344 players were registered in the state. Connecticut is a pretty well established hockey state, so I wondered three years ago if 12,000 or so was the peak of its membership expectations. Doesn’t appear that way.
Ten-Year Growth: 132 (16.9%)
Five-Year Growth: -181 (-16.5%)
Ten-Year Growth: 3,810 (46.9%)
Five-Year Growth: 1,584 (15.3%)
Notes: A state hit hard by the recession, Florida never really seemed to waver very much in the last decade. With a minor drop in 2004-05, Florida surged out of the lockout years in the NHL in terms of participation. Its 11,924 players in 2011-12 is an all-time high. The Tampa Bay Lightning have really taken a step forward organizationally and could be a real engine for growth in Florida going forward as well, with Steven Stamkos playing a huge role. Its ownership group is committed to growing the game locally.
Ten-Year Growth: 429 (25.3%)
Five-Year Growth: 13 (0.6%)
Notes: With the Thrashers now gone, I’m not entirely sure Georgia will have the juice to push much higher than 2,500 in the near future. The team drove growth for a brief period and was committed to local youth hockey. Now it’s up to the grassroots folks to push participation forward.
Ten-Year Growth: -223 (-94.89%)
Five-Year Growth: -2 (-14.28%)
Ten-Year Growth: 731 (27.9%)
Five-Year Growth: 368 (12.3%)
Ten-Year Growth: 6,571 (31.1%)
Five-Year Growth: 5,684 (25.89%)
Notes: I find Illinois to be one of the most fascinating states in the entire country. The vast majority of its ten-year growth came over the last four seasons, which directly coincide with the Chicago Blackhawks’ franchise turnaround. Between 2008-09 and 2009-10, Illinois picked up more than 2,000 registered hockey players. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and the state picked up 2,500-plus more. It’s utterly remarkable how much of an impact the team has had on a state that had been hovering around 22,000 players for years. No state has grown as much in the last five years as Illinois. In 2012-13, Illinois boasted a record 27,638 members and after winning another Cup, who knows where that number goes next.
Ten-Year Growth: 457 (8.5%)
Five-Year Growth: 967 (20.02%)
Notes: Just wanted to point to Indiana as an example of a state that’s rebounding. I thought about also including the five-year numbers between 2002-03 and 2008-09, but thought it might just clutter things up. Here, you can see the numbers took a hit, particularly coming out of the worst parts of the recession, but is on the way up. Indiana has been on a four-year streak of season-to-season growth and hit a record high this season.
Ten-Year Growth: 155 (4.9%)
Five-Year Growth: 724 (28.23%)
Ten-Year Growth: -344 (-17.9%)
Five-Year Growth: 120 (8.25%)
Ten-Year Growth: 395 (32.6%)
Five-Year Growth: 129 (8.74%)
Ten-Year Growth: -262 (-39.1%)
Five-Year Growth: -52 (-11.3%)
Notes: Louisiana was in a tough spot to begin with, but it’s membership dipped as low as 295 in 2005-06. Hurricane Katrina really did impact everything in that state. After a slow climb back, Louisiana’s membership is once again slipping.
Ten-Year Growth: 41 (0.7%)
Five-Year Growth: -238 (-3.88%)
Ten-Year Growth: 2,240 (32.3%)
Five-Year Growth: 9,159 (34.375%)
Notes: Maryland is one of the states I believe to be experiencing the “Ovi Effect.” The Capitals have been one of the league’s more exciting teams over the last five years or so and that has probably helped lead to nearby Maryland’s expanding hockey participation numbers. I’ve also been told many times that the grassroots people in this area have done a phenomenal job of capitalizing on the growing interest in hockey in the area and it’s paying off with surging membership numbers.
Ten-Year Growth: 2,417 (5.4%)
Five-Year Growth: 4,601 (10.9%)
Notes: One of the Big Three in American hockey, Mass saw numbers continually slide until about 2009-10. Since then, hockey grew each season until reaching a record high of 46,788 in 2011-12, the year following the Bruins’ Stanley Cup win. A slight dip last season isn’t too big of a concern though. Hockey is back in a big way in the Bay State, as displayed by its rather impressive 10.9 percent increase over the last five years.
Ten-Year Growth: -5,018 (-8.8%)
Five-Year Growth: -93 (-0.1%)
Notes: Believe it or not, at one point this decade, Michigan was the No. 1 state in terms of hockey participation. However, it appears Michigan’s economic crisis took a major toll on hockey. As the recession hit its worst years, Michigan’s numbers just dropped and dropped and dropped. It appeared Michigan had recovered a few years ago, when 54,251 players were registered, but its 51,929 last season is the second lowest number of registered players in the last decade. Some of that could be do to the increased prominence of AAU leagues in the state, but the recent fluctuation of membership has been rather puzzling.
Ten-Year Growth: 9,067 (20.2%)
Five-Year Growth: 1,602 (3.06%)
Notes: The self-proclaimed State of Hockey certainly has a strong case for such a title. Despite a slight drop after a record-high 54,951 registered in 2011-12, it has the highest hockey-playing population in the country. Minnesota’s raw growth over the last 10 years is rather impressive, seeing as you wouldn’t expect a well-established hockey state to continue such a dramatic rise. However, 20.2 percent growth for the country’s biggest hockey state over a 10-year span is nuts. Especially due to the fact that Minnesota’s vaunted high school league is not affiliated with USA Hockey, meaning many of its players may not be registered with the organization. So Minnesota’s numbers could be even higher. It’s quite impressive overall.
Ten-Year Growth: -158 (-38.7%)
Five-Year Growth: 8 (3.3%)
Ten-Year Growth: -422 (-5.4%)
Five-Year Growth: 961 (15.1%)
Notes: Missouri’s membership took quite a dive in the middle of the decade, but appears to be bouncing back strongly. That 15.1 percent growth over the last five years is highly encouraging. Missouri has experience three consecutive years of marked growth as well.
Ten-Year Growth: 1,599 (66.9%)
Five-Year Growth: 628 (18.68%)
Ten-Year Growth: -67 (-4.02%)
Five-Year Growth: 36 (2.3%)
Ten-Year Growth: 570 (86.3%)
Five-Year Growth: 163 (15.2%)
Ten-Year Growth: -1,331 (-17.4%)
Five-Year Growth: -581 (-8.4%)
Ten-Year Growth: 1,613 (9.6%)
Five-Year Growth: 1,660 (9.99%)
Notes: New Jersey’s growth has been a pleasant surprise after a few years of decline. In fact, the Garden State hit 14,508 registered players, a low for the last 11 seasons in 2005-06. It has rebounded quite well, especially so in the last four years. The state is now beginning to churn out more top-level talent, too. College hockey star Johnny Gaudreau is a Carney’s Point, N.J. native.
Ten-Year Growth: 286 (28.7%)
Five-Year Growth: 26 (2.07%)
Ten-Year Growth: 4,444 (10.07%)
Five-Year Growth: 3,359 (7.4%)
Notes: New York is a really encouraging state in terms of hockey’s future in the U.S. Membership took a real dive in the leanest years of the recession, with the state experiencing three years of precipitous decline. From 2009-10 on, however, it’s been surging. Last year’s 48,544 registered players was an all-time high.
Ten-Year Growth: 2,414 (63.6%)
Five-Year Growth: 423 (7.43%)
Notes: I think North Carolina is one of the success stories of hockey’s expansion along with Texas and Florida in particular. Before the Hurricanes arrived, hockey’s presence in the state was minimal at best. Now it’s grown exponentially over the last 11 seasons, experiencing its biggest one-year surge in the immediate aftermath of Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup title. The state added nearly 1,000 players in 2006-07 compared to the previous year. NC was at an all-time high of 6,397 players in 2011-12.
Ten-Year Growth: 1,147 (27.5%)
Five-Year Growth: 967 (22.2%)
Ten-Year Growth: 1,478 (11.4%)
Five-Year Growth: 1,212 (9.1%)
Notes: Ohio has become a pretty solid hockey state over the years. With every level of hockey from NHL to college to junior and below, it’s good to see the game continually moving forward here.
Ten-Year Growth: 466 (74.8%)
Five-Year Growth: 31 (2.93%)
Ten-Year Growth: 465 (53.1%)
Five-Year Growth: 593 (79.38%)
Ten-Year Growth: 5,133 (20.3%)
Five-Year Growth: 4,877 (19.7%)
Notes: Starting in 2005-06, USA Hockey split Pennsylvania into two chunks, WPA and EPA as each half of the state was part of a different USA Hockey region. For the purposes of this report, that couldn’t have been more fortuitous. You’ll notice that Pennsylvania’s total hockey population has spiked by 20.3 percent in the last decade. Both sides of the state have grown, but Western PA has shown remarkable and rapid growth. This is “The Sidney Crosby Effect.” WPA’s membership grew by 4,395 players over an eight-year span. Keep in mind, this is half a state doing that. That was a 50.7 percent increase from the 8,665 players in 2005-06. The Penguins won the Cup in 2009 and membership surged in the next three years. Eastern PA, which had a much higher membership to start with, has grown by 10.25 percent over the same span. Pennsylvania is now the No. 5 hockey state in terms of participation. It’s quite a swing.
Ten-Year Growth: -409 (-7.9%)
Five-Year Growth: -153 (-3.1%)
Ten-Year Growth: 180 (14.1%)
Five-Year Growth: 60 (4.3%)
Ten-Year Growth: 739 (38.4%)
Five-Year Growth: 522 (24.38%)
Ten-Year Growth: 879 (43.1%)
Five-Year Growth: 572 (24.38%)
Notes: I really think Tennessee could be the next North Carolina. As the Predators continue to grow local interest, there’s room for growth. Perhaps Seth Jones will energize the fanbase a bit. The Preds are continually improving their ticket sales, though were hurt by the lockout last year. The team is pouring resources into growing the game locally and I think we could see a big boost over the next five years here, sooner if the Preds can put together a Stanley Cup contender.
Ten-Year Growth: 5,344 (82%)
Five-Year Growth: 1,027 (9.4%)
Notes: Texas is the crowning achievement of NHL relocation. Without the Dallas Stars moving from Minnesota, I don’t think we see numbers like this. Texas had fewer than 1,000 players in the early 1990s. Now it’s up to a record-high 11,861. There are more rinks and more opportunities for players and the game’s remarkable 82 percent growth statewide over the decade is incredibly encouraging for the game nationwide. The state has churned out a bunch of top talent of late, most recently Seth Jones.
Ten-Year Growth: 1,275 (40.06%)
Five-Year Growth: 514 (13.03%)
Ten-Year Growth: 266 (5.7%)
Five-Year Growth: 425 (9.5%)
Ten-Year Growth: 3,638 (66.06%)
Five-Year Growth: 2,473 (37.06%)
Notes: I think Virginia has been one of the real surprises of the last decade. A lot of it is due to the “Ovi Effect,” but things just keep surging there. Last season, Virginia, which has seen growth every year since 2002-03, reached a record-high of 9,145 players statewide.
Ten-Year Growth: 850 (566.6%)
Five-Year Growth: 342 (51.97%)
Notes: Ovechkin and the Capitals obviously are doing amazing things locally for hockey in the District. DC’s 566% growth over 10 years, is obviously the highest in the country over the last decade (though that’s what you get for starting with 150 players). Even though these numbers are relatively small, the rapid growth is truly incredible.
Ten-Year Growth: 2,211 (38.79%)
Five-Year Growth: 569 (7.7%)
Notes: If the NHL ever ends up dropping a team in Seattle, I think it would be huge for hockey in Washington. The growth over the last decade is certainly encouraging, but I think it has explosive potential if there’s a central team in the state to provide the right kind of exposure. I really believe Seattle would be a successful NHL market and the game will be better for it if the league ever chooses to expand or relocate there.
Ten-Year Growth: 172 (17.6%)
Five-Year Growth: 90 (8.49%)
Ten-Year Growth: -269 (-1.5%)
Five-Year Growth: -18 (-0.1%)
Notes: I don’t think there’s much concern that hockey isn’t growing in Wisconsin, though 17,538 is the lowest participation in the last 11 seasons. It is still the largest hockey-playing population for a state that does not include an NHL team. The numbers have fluctuated between 17,500 and 18,400 over the last 11 seasons, so that’s a fairly good place for Wisconsin to be.
Ten-Year Growth: 208 (11.7%)
Five-Year Growth: 179 (9.9%)
The United States of America
Ten-Year Growth: 63,951 (14.3%)
Five-Year Growth: 44,304 (9.5%)
– Minnesota had the biggest raw growth over the last decade with 9,067 more players in 2012-13 than in 2002-03. Illinois was second with 6,571 members gained, while California was third with 6,455. Texas (5,344) and Pennsylvania (5,133) round out the top five.
– Illinois had the biggest raw growth over the last five years with 5,684 more players in 2012-13 than in 2008-09. Pennsylvania was second with 4,877, while Massachusetts was third with 4,601. Califorina (3,746) and New York (3,359) round out the top five.
– Twelve states had fewer players in 2012-13 compared to 2002-03. Michigan had the biggest decrease in membership over the last decade, with 5,018 fewer players in 2012-13 than in 2002-03. New Hampshire’s 1,331 was the second biggest loss, while Arizona’s 824 was third.
– Eighteen states have seen increases in membership of 30 percent or more over the last decade. Washington, D.C. grew by 566.6 percent over the last 11 seasons, a national high (by a lot). Among large hockey states (10,000 or more registered players), Texas’s 82 percent increase was the biggest over the last decade.
Though the growth has somewhat slowed down over the years, the important thing is that the game is still growing. To have grown membership by 14.3% nationwide over a decade is solid progress.
There’s still more room to grow, too. As hockey continues to increase its popularity, with surging ticket sales and improving TV ratings in many markets in the NHL, the game as a whole will benefit.
With international success at every level of hockey, from 2010’s Olympic silvers to World Junior, World Women’s and World U18 gold medals, more American NHL players than ever before and record numbers in participation across the country, this truly is the Golden Age of hockey in the United States of America.