Raw Numbers: Hockey’s Growth in the United States — 1990-2010

Last week, you may have read a pair of posts about hockey’s growth in the south, particularly in the state of Georgia. Today, we widen the net a little bit to give you an idea just how far hockey has come in this country since the NHL’s expansion of the 1990s.

Through annual efforts from USA Hockey, and it’s affiliates, the game has grown immensely in the last 20 years and it only keeps getting bigger and better. However, when you look at the growth, you can’t help but notice where hockey’s numbers are biggest.

States with NHL teams tend to be more populous areas, with more arenas and therefore more opportunities for kids to learn the sport. That is why it  is so crucial to have NHL teams in the major markets in the United States. As I mentioned last week, having a nearby NHL team is about as good a marketing tool you can have if you’re running a youth hockey association.

In addition to simply having the NHL team, if the local club is doing well and building excitement, the same can be said for hockey as a whole. For a quick example, the state of Illinois saw record growth at the 8 & Under age level in 2010-11. The number of boys and girls under eight playing hockey in Illinois increased by 30.1% in the season following the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup.

In last Thursday’s post, I documented the impact of the Stanley Cups won by Carolina and Dallas on hockey membership in those states. So while having a team helps, having a good team helps more. I will examine the “Stanley Cup Effect” in depth after the Stanley Cup Playoffs have concluded.

Coming up after the jump, a look at growth over the last 20 years in NHL states.

Just like the last post, this isn’t a scientific study, it is simply to report on hockey’s growth in the United States over the last 20 years. This report doesn’t account for population growth in these states, which certainly plays a role.

All of the following numbers are courtesy of USA Hockey’s communications department. The 2010-11 final membership statistics are not yet available, so the 2009-10 season’s numbers were used in this report.

USA Hockey has experienced a growth of 143.22% nationwide since 1990-91. During that season, USA Hockey had 195,125 members. In 2009-10, 474,592 people were registered as players with the national governing body.

Here’s a look at the individual states in alphabetical order:

State: Arizona
NHL Team: Phoenix Coyotes (Moved to Phoenix in 1996)
Membership in 1990-91: 1,196
Membership in 2009-10: 3,339
Growth: 179.2%
Notes: The Coyotes have actually had a huge impact on the youth hockey community in Arizona. Few teams are as active in engaging with local youth hockey. There have been a few new rinks built in the state as well, increasing opportunities.

State: California
NHL Teams: L.A. Kings (1967), Anaheim Ducks (1993), San Jose Sharks (1991)
1990-91: 4,483
2009-10: 20,404
Growth: 322.4%
Notes: Wayne Gretzky coming to LA had a huge impact on hockey in California. In 1995-96, Gretzky’s last season in LA, California’s hockey playing population had already ballooned to 15,537 (221.7% growth from 1991). After Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2007, California’s membership boosted by 1,507 (biggest growth was among adult hockey players so its hard to put it all on the Ducks). California’s climb has been steady in recent years after its meteoric rise in the mid 1990s. As the state’s hockey-playing population continues to grow, so has its production of elite players, just look at the last four NHL Entry Drafts for the evidence.

State: Colorado
NHL Team: Colorado Avalanche (moved to Denver in 1995)
1990-91: 3,854
2009-10: 13,437
Growth: 248.6%
Notes: It certainly helped that the Avs have won the Stanley Cup twice in the organization’s relatively short existence in Denver. However, just having the team come to town had an immediate impact on hockey in the state. In 1995-96, the inaugural season for the Avalanche, membership had nearly doubled from 1990-91. Since then, Colorado has become known as a hockey-friendly state and doesn’t ever seem to get the “non-traditional” tag, though hockey’s growth is fairly recent.

State: Florida
Teams: Tampa Bay Lightning (1992), Florida Panthers (1993)
1990-91: 1,200
2009-10: 10,856
Growth: 804.7%
Notes: I covered this in last Thursday’s post, but Florida’s run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals and Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup win in 2004 certainly helped. However, with a stunning 804.7% growth in nearly 20 years, just these two teams showing up went a long way. Both clubs will continue to be a catalyst for growth of hockey in the Sunshine State.

State: Georgia
NHL Team: Atlanta Thrashers (1999)
1990-91: 370
2009-10: 2,142
Growth: 478.9%
Notes: I’ve already covered Atlanta’s growth at length here and here. So that should handle this section.

State: Illinois
NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks (1926)
1990-91: 9,412
2009-10: 24,018
Growth: 155.2%
Notes: Illinois has been a state with an underrated hockey tradition. It’s aalmost always one of the top five states when it comes to hockey participation, however the game has continued to grow. With the recent success of the Chicago Blackhawks, membership has soared. In 2008-09, Illinois had a membership of 21,954. In 2009-10, the membership grew to 24,018, meaning Illinois picked up over 2,000 members in one year. We haven’t seen the final 2010-11 numbers yet, but expect the Stanley Cup Effect to have given Illinois yet another boost.

State: Massachussetts
NHL Team: Boston Bruins (1924)
1990-91: 25,901
2009-10: 43,445
Growth: 67.7%
Notes: Massachusetts is one of the Big Three when it comes to hockey in the U.S. It’s no surprise to see a huge hockey-playing membership. However, to see continued growth is incredibly encouraging. A lot of it probably has to do with population growth, but the fact that hockey continues to grow with a rising population is great news. The hockey culture in Massachusetts is alive and well.

State: Michigan
NHL Team: Detroit Red Wings (1926)
1990-91: 24,594
2009-10: 51,404
Growth: 109%
Notes: Michigan is another one of the Big Three. However, it’s greatest growth spurts came as the Red Wings began building towards its back-to-back Stanley Cup campaigns. The Wings had President’s Trophy seasons in 1994-95 and 1995-96. Between 1990-91 and 1995-96, Michigan’s membership grew to 47,062 (91%), so it’s not hard to see there may have been some NHL influence there. Michigan’s poor economy has effected growth, but the numbers are still strong. In 2009-10, Michigan had the second highest participation of any state.

State: Minnesota
NHL Team: Minnesota Wild (2000)
1990-91: 32,650
2009-10: 53,450
Growth: 63.7%
Notes: Minnesota is known as the State of Hockey for a reason. Despite the North Stars leaving in 1993 for Dallas, the Minnesota hockey faithful never batted an eye when it came to participation. This is probably the one state where the NHL team has the least amount of influence on hockey membership. Hockey is part of the culture in Minnesota, a part of its pride. Minnesota has more hockey players than any other state and will likely continue on that trend for many years to come.

State: Missouri
NHL Team: St. Louis Blues (1967)
1990-91: 3,382
2009-10: 6,295
Growth: 86.1%
Notes: Missouri is not known for hockey, despite having one of the older franchises in the NHL. Outside of the St. Louis area, there isn’t much opportunity for young players. Of the states with an NHL franchise, Missouri has showed the least amount of growth, save for two already huge states in Massachusetts and Minnesota. However, the state is beginning to produce more high-end talent. Kansas City has often been rumored as a potential relocation destination. Should the NHL ever return to KC, there would likely be a sizable boost on the other side of the state where there are currently less places to play.

State: North Carolina
NHL Team: Carolina Hurricanes (moved to Raleigh in 1997)
1990-91: 929
2009-10: 5,598
Growth: 502.6%
Notes: I covered North Carolina’s growth in my last post on this topic.  The Hurricanes Stanley Cup win in 2006 has certainly contributed to the state’s rapid growth. As a side note, South Carolina has also experienced a significant growth in the last 20 years. In 1990-91, South Carolina had 208 registered hockey players. In 2009-10, there were 2,151, representing a growth of 576.4%.

State: New Jersey
NHL Team: New Jersey Devils (Moved to New Jersey in 1982)
1990-91: 6,452
2009-10: 16,041
Growth: 148.6%
Notes: The Devils have enjoyed a lot of success in the last 15 years, having won three Stanley Cups dating back to 1995. In fact, the Devils got a big boost in membership in the 1995-96 season, when participation grew to 10,515 players (63% from 1990-91). Additionally, New Jersey has really picked up in its production of elite players (See: James van Riemsdyk, John Carlson).

State: New York
NHL Teams: New York Rangers (1926), Buffalo Sabres (1970), New York Islanders (1972)
1990-91: 22,001
2009-10: 46,389
Growth: 110.8%
Notes: New York has really blossomed into a premier hockey state. In fact, New York’s membership ranked third in the country, ahead of perennial power Massachusetts, in 2009-10. The Stanley Cup Effect was big in New York. In 1990-91, membership sat at 22,001. In 1995-96, two years removed from the Rangers winning the Cup, 44,847 people were playing hockey in the Empire State (108.3% growth from 90-91). Since then, growth has tapered off a bit, but retention remains high. New York has always produced plenty of NHL talent, but has become one of the top producers in the U.S. in recent years.

State: Ohio
NHL Team: Columbus Blue Jackets (2000)
1990-91: 4,308
2009-10: 13,579
Growth: 215.2%
Notes: Ohio has really grown into a hockey state. Prior to the NHL coming back in 2000, it was a big-time college hockey state. However, hockey has continued to grow since the NHL came back and only gets better. Ohio is producing a great deal of NCAA and pro talent. It’s not often mentioned among other hockey states, but Ohio certainly loves the game and the numbers are showing it.

State: Pennsylvania
NHL Teams: Philadelphia Flyers (1967), Pittsburgh Penguins (1967)
1990-91: 10,420
2009-10: 27,549
Growth: 164.4%
Notes: It’s been no secret that Pennsylvania is a growing hockey state. As of 2009-10, Pennsylvania ranked fifth in the nation in membership, bumping the traditionally strong Illinois to sixth. The Penguins and Flyers had some of the premier teams of the 1990s, with Pittsburgh winning two Stanley Cups at the beginning of the decade. Those Stanley Cup wins did not fuel growth as rapidly as some other locations, however the sport has been on a gradual rise since then. Having two very popular NHL teams in one state certainly doesn’t hurt. Interest in hockey is at an all-time high and it’s continuing to expand.

State: Tennessee
NHL Team: Nashville Predators (1998)
1990-91: 441
2009-10: 2,430
Growth: 264.6%
Notes: The birth of the Predators has certainly played a huge role in hockey’s growth in Tennessee. As the team continues to build interest locally, we should see this number continue to rise. There aren’t as many opportunities in Tennessee as there are in other states, but the game is still catching on at a pretty astounding rate.

State: Texas
NHL Team: Dallas Stars (Moved to Dallas in 1993)
1990-91: 868
2009-10: 10,909
Growth: 1,156.8%
Notes: I mentioned Texas in Thursday’s post. There’s no doubt that the NHL’s expansion to Dallas is the catalyst for this tremendous growth. The success of the Stars has also opened the door for minor pro hockey to flourish as the hockey community grows in the state. The astounding numbers make Texas look like a great success story of NHL expansion.

I did things a little differently for the Washington Capitals, as the teams influence spreads among a few other states.

State: Virginia
NHL Team: Washington Capitals (1974)
1990-91: 1,459
2009-10: 7,251
Growth: 397%

State: Maryland
1990-91: 1,951
2009-10: 7,326
Growth: 275.5%

Washington, D.C.
1990-91: 250
2009-10: 742
Growth: 196.8%
Notes: The Capitals have played a big role in the growth of hockey in this region. Having one of the game’s most exciting players is certainly helpful. With tremendous growth in each of the three areas mentioned, hockey is becoming more ingrained in the community. While Virginia and Maryland are not often mentioned among the most-debated locales in the NHL, they are far from “traditional,” making the rapid growth all the more encouraging.


So there you have it. As the NHL’s popularity continues to grow in each market, so does hockey participation. As I said, population growth certainly plays a role, but to see the high percentages of growth is a testament to the impact the game is having across the country.

While the NHL teams all play a large role, much of the credit should go to the thousands of volunteers, parents and coaches nationwide that have helped hockey continue to flourish. Without those folks, it wouldn’t matter if there was an NHL team or not. Additionally, the staff at USA Hockey’s national office deserves recognition to continually finding new ways to get kids involved and keep them involved by making the game more fun, more affordable and easier to join.

Hockey is growing in this country, even in tougher economic times. The influence of the game has spread all over the United States and continues to pick up steam. So when TV ratings and empty buildings might get some of the headlines, the packed local rinks and overflowing youth hockey organizations offer a more positive indication of where we’re headed as a hockey nation.


LINK: I recently chatted with Matt Gajtka and Larry Snyder on their Gospel of Hockey podcast about hockey’s growth in the Southeast. You can check out the archive here (I check in at about the 17-minute mark).

Coming soon: I’ll take a look at the “Stanley Cup Effect” on membership. Additionally, I’ll be putting together a piece on USA Hockey’s record growth at the 8 & Under age level.

We’ll also be getting back to prospect talk tomorrow, covering the USHL’s Clark Cup Finals, International Scouting Services May rankings, the Draft Combine and more.


About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in Grow the Game, NHL, USA Hockey, Youth Hockey. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Raw Numbers: Hockey’s Growth in the United States — 1990-2010

  1. Larry Snyder says:

    Back on Monday, May 16, the United States Hockey League conducted their 2011 Entry Draft. A total of 216 players were chosen over 19 rounds. The breakdown was 139 forwards, 63 defensemen, and 14 goalies.

    States like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Alaska, and Minnesota were well-represented all along the draft board.

    To follow up on your observations – 14 states that would have been thought of as “non-traditional” hockey states -or- states with solid youth growth over the last 20 years had young men chosen in the USHL draft.

    The 61 players chosen were spread over 42 forwards, 14 defenseman, and 5 goalies.

    Here is the breakdown of the 14 states:

    Arizona (179.2% Growth) – 6 Players
    California (322.4% Growth) – 6 Players
    Colorado (248.6% Growth) – 8 Players
    Florida (804.7% Growth) – 2 Players
    Illinois (155.2% Growth) – 9 Players
    Indiana – 1 Player
    Iowa – 1 Player
    Maryland (275.5% Growth) – 2 Players
    Missouri (86.1%) – 7 Players
    Nevada – 1 Player
    New Jersey – (148.6% Growth) – 9 Players
    Ohio (215.2% Growth) – 4 Players
    Oklahoma – 2 Players
    Texas (1,156.8% Growth) – 3 Players

    The NAHL draft is set for today, Thursday, 05/26/2011. I believe we will see the numbers from the non-traditional states increase with the NAHL selections.

    Ice hockey does indeed continue to grow and flourish

    Breakdown of the 2011 Women’s Team USA roster (21 players) that won the Gold Medal at the IIHF World Championships:

    California – 1 Player: Angela Ruggiero
    Idaho – 1 Player: Hilary Knight
    Illinois – 1 Player: Kendall Coyne
    Ohio – 2 Players: Brianne MClaughlin and Kelli Stack
    Pennsylvania – 1 Player: Jen Schoullis

    You just have to look around – there are ice hockey players everywhere!

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