Raw Numbers: Hockey’s Growth in Non-NHL States — 1990-2010

Last week, The United States of Hockey recently documented the tremendous growth in youth hockey membership in states that possess at least one National Hockey League franchise. While growth has come much faster and with bigger numbers in those states, the game is growing across the country.

If you’ll recall from my previous post, USA Hockey has experienced 143.22% growth from the 1990-91 season to 2009-10. There were 474,592 players registered nationwide last season. The vast majority, 73.9% in fact, of USA Hockey’s membership comes from states with NHL teams, not surprisingly. While the NHL states tend to possess big cities with vast populations, the game continues to grow at a tremendous pace everywhere else.

As interest in the game grows around the country, it is important to take a look at the entire picture. Coming up after the jump a look at the growth in the states with no NHL franchise.

State: Alaska
Membership in 1990-91: 3,295
Membership in 2009-10: 8,477
Growth: 157.3%
Notes: Alaska has a great hockey tradition as it is. With two Division I colleges, an ECHL team and a few NAHL teams sprinkled in, there’s no shortage of places to watch hockey. Also, native Alaskans that have made a splash in the NHL, particularly Scott Gomez, have impacted hockey in their home state. The game is as strong as ever in Alaska.

State: Alabama
1990-91: 210
2009-10: 1,114
Growth: 430.5%
Notes: With the University of Alabama Huntsville fielding a Division I hockey team and Huntsville also home to the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Havoc, the game is alive and well in Alabama. Hockey just keeps growing down south. Of course, there wasn’t much of a base to start with, but growth is growth. It’s pretty impressive to see how far states like Alabama have come in not only accepting the game, but helping it flourish.

State: Arkansas
1990-91: 25
2009-10: 216
Growth: 764%
Notes: So the percentage looks great, but the actual numbers don’t look all that good for Arkansas, but consider that there were 25 people in the whole state playing the game at one time. There aren’t nearly the opportunities, nor are there any pro or high-level college teams to promote hockey state wide. So it’s been baby steps for Arkansas, but again… it’s moving forward. We’ll take it.

State: Connecticut
1990-91: 5,363
2009-10: 12,088
Growth: 125.4%
Notes: As I mentioned in my final post about Atlanta’s youth hockey, Connecticut enjoyed tremendous growth right up until the point the Hartford Whalers left for North Carolina. Since 1998-99, hockey growth has stagnated. However, 12,000 members may be just about right for a state of Connecticut’s size and could be reason for stagnant growth. Regardless, there is no shortage of great hockey in the state from the American Hockey League on down. They’d love to see the Whalers return to the NHL, but the odds of that happening are pretty slim. Connecticut is certainly a great hockey state, with or without the NHL.

State: Delaware
1990-91: 343
2009-10: 1,049
Growth: 205.8%
Notes: Delaware might be a small state, but it’s seen a solid boost in membership over the last 20 years. Not considered a traditional hockey state, but surrounded by several. The University of Delaware has a popular and moderately successful ACHA Division I hockey team. Not really eye-popping growth, but positive nonetheless.

State: Hawaii
1990-91: 36
2009-10: 11
Growth: -69%
Notes: Well, there had to be one, right? Only one state actually lost players in the last 20 years. There is one ice rink in Honolulu, but can you blame them for not wanting to play hockey in that beautiful part of the world? There is a strong inline program in the state, but these numbers only account for registered ice hockey players. My guess is the 11 folks registered in Hawaii probably came to the mainland for a few tournaments or they just like receiving USA Hockey Magazine (as they should).

State: Iowa
1990-91: 610
2009-10: 2,549
Growth: 317.9%
Notes: Iowa’s growth is a little deceiving. From 1990-2010 it looks great, but consider that there were 2,674 players in 1995-96. So it hasn’t gone much higher since that initial spike. Regardless, the state has been friendly to hockey. The USHL has a solid base of teams throughout Iowa, including 2011 Clark Cup Champion Dubuque. The AHL gave Des Moines a shot, but it didn’t work out. The USHL’s success has cushioned that blow, however. Additionally, Iowa is home to one of the most storied non-varsity programs in the country in Iowa State and a growing one at the University of Iowa. All of these programs have helped the growth of hockey in the state I am happy to call home now.

State: Idaho
1990-91: 566
2009-10: 2,958
Growth: 422.6%
Notes: This was one of the more surprising jumps I saw. Idaho is not known for hockey, but is home to the ECHL’s Steelheads, which have undoubtedly made some kind of impact on the state. Obviously, Idaho’s climate is friendly to outdoor hockey and there will always be a number of kids who learn the game on the pond that want to give it a try in an organized league. Glad to see more folks are taking that opportunity.

State: Indiana
1990-91: 1,948
2009-10: 4,927
Growth: 152.9%
Notes: Indiana actually has a long hockey heritage. Most of us have never known minor league hockey without the legendary Ft. Wayne Komets (the team that sparked Doc Emrick’s love of the game). Perhaps you’ll recall that Wayne Gretzky’s first pro hockey team was the Indianapolis Racers. A banner commemorating that fact still hangs in the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, current home of the USHL’s Indiana Ice. To see some solid growth out of this state is encouraging. Indiana is also home to the vaunted Culver Military Academy which has produced the likes of Gary Suter, Ryan Suter, Blake Geoffrion and John-Michael Liles. A rich hockey heritage, and now a growing hockey playing population.

State: Kansas
1990-91: 314
2009-10: 1,574
Growth: 401.3%
Notes: There isn’t a whole lot of entertainment options for hockey fans in Kansas, yet the game is finding a way to grow. The Midwest as a whole is really seeing tremendous growth, so it’s good to see a non-traditional hockey state like Kansas grow with it. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to play around the state, so the trend of growth should continue.

State: Kentucky
1990-91: 314
2009-10: 1,619
Growth: 390.6%
Notes: Kentucky is actually starting to see a big boost in Adult hockey. I recently profiled one of the state’s innovative Adult hockey programs for USAHockey.com. As Adult numbers have grown, the youth numbers have gone with it. Without any major hockey teams in the state, the fact that more than 1,500 people are playing hockey in Kentucky, an area dominated by basketball is really intriguing.

State: Louisiana
1990-91: 50
2009-10: 466
Growth: 832%
Notes: Home to teams in the SPHL and CHL, Louisiana is an unlikely place to find pro hockey. So to see a decent uptick in hockey membership in a state with economic issues against it was a surprise to me. To go from 50 players to more than 450 is pretty solid progress in a 20-year period with no hockey tradition to speak of. Additionally, like everything else in the state, Hurricane Katrina put a huge dent in hockey growth. In 2005-06, there were only 295 registered players in Lousiana. So to see the game rally as it has is incredibly impressive.

State: Maine
1990-91: 2,276
2009-10: 6,180
Growth: 171.5%
Notes: With a storied Division I program at the University of Maine and a solid AHL franchise in the Portland Pirates, hockey has been ingrained in Maine’s sports landscape. The state’s hockey growth is similar to that of many of its Northeastern neighbors, where hockey has less room to grow due to already high numbers. Nonetheless, it keeps moving forward and a local midget team even won a USA Hockey National Championship this year. So there’s both quantity and quality.

State: Mississippi
1990-91: 10 (!)
2009-10: 259
Growth: 2,490%
Notes: No state had fewer hockey players in 1990-91 than Mississippi. It’s not surprising, for the most part, but in some ways it is. Ten people in the whole state? However, thanks to an influx of professional hockey teams and a few rinks popping up around the state, the game has had a chance to go from next to nothing to a little more than that. At 2,490%, Mississippi has the highest percentage of growth in the country. Take that with a grain of salt, obviously, but it’s still encouraging.

State: Montana
1990-91: 775
2009-10: 3,568
Growth: 360.4%
Notes: Montana’s growth is a bit surprising to me, as there is really no major hockey around. They’ve had Junior teams come and go in the state, but nothing has really stuck. However, hockey continues to grow at a pretty solid clip for a state with minimal hockey heritage, and as Paul Teeple reminded me, a strengthened economy.

State: North Dakota
1990-91: 2,420
2009-10: 4,547
Growth: 87.9%
Notes: Home of the Fighting Sioux, and various Junior teams including the USHL’s Fargo Force, North Dakota is pretty keen on hockey. Having hosted both the World Junior Championship (in Grand Forks, 2005) and the World Under-18s (Fargo, 2009), North Dakota is as hockey friendly as it gets. The growth is minimal, but consider the sparse population and this looks pretty solid to me. While the numbers may not have spiked, it’s fair to say the quality has been greater than the quantity as more North Dakota natives are making the higher levels of hockey.

State: Nebraska
1990-91: 312
2009-10: 1,459
Growth: 367.6%
Notes: The Huskers may be king in Nebraska, but hockey is gaining a foothold in the state. With three USHL clubs and the University of Nebraska Omaha being a program on the rise, Nebraska has shown it’s love for hockey. Credit the USHL and UNO for having a big hand in bringing exposure of hockey to the state and putting a good product out there for the fans to embrace. As the numbers show, hockey is working well in Nebraska.

State: New Hampshire
1990-91: 2,579
2009-10: 6,120
Growth: 137.3%
Notes: New Hampshire and it’s Northeast neighbors have all shown pretty similar growth. With the University of New Hampshire, AHL’s Manchester Monarchs and a host of other high-level squads throughout the state, there’s plenty of hockey to go around. It’s normal growth pace should continue as the years go on.

State: New Mexico
1990-91: 276
2009-10: 1,207
Growth: 337.3%
Notes: Another surprise for me. You’d expect a warm-weather state like New Mexico wouldn’t have seen such tremendous growth, but it has. The addition of an NAHL team last season may help this growth continue in some way. I was shocked that New Mexico had more than 1,000 hockey players and there’s no signs of slowing, either.

State: Nevada
1990-91: 258
2009-10: 940
Growth: 264.3%
Notes: Having a popular ECHL club in the Las Vegas Wranglers gives hockey a foothold in Nevada. Jason Zucker, a native of Las Vegas, was the WCHA’s rookie of the year and a 2nd round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2010 was the first Nevada-native to earn a selection at the NHL Draft. Perhaps he inspires some more kids to pick up hockey sticks? Steady growth in one of the country’s hottest locales is pretty encouraging. It’s not a huge spike, but a step in the right direction.

State: Oklahoma
1990-91: 109
2009-10: 1,051
Growth: 864.2%
Notes: Here’s another shocker for me. Oklahoma’s growing hockey landscape is really impressive and it undoubtedly will only continue to get better. Home of the CHL’s Tulsa Oilers, one of the longest-running Southwestern professional teams, and now the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, excitement is building. Couple those clubs with two quality ACHA Division I teams at both Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma and there’s no shortage of exposure for the game. This was another pleasant surprise for me, but I’d expect the surprises to keep on coming out of OK. Side note: Former Oklahoma QB and Heisman Trophy Winner Sam Bradford grew up playing hockey in Oklahoma City.

State: Oregon
1990-91: 738
2009-10: 804
Growth: 8.9%
Notes: So this one’s a bit of a dud, eh? Oregon’s top level of hockey comes via the WHL and the Portland Winterhawks. Still, the game hasn’t caught on as much in Oregon as it has across the country. I don’t know much more about the state of the game in Oregon above what the numbers show, but I was surprised to see such a lack of growth in comparison to the rest of the country. Any Oregonians want to take a stab at why this might be?

State: Rhode Island
1990-91: 2,320
2009-10: 4,641
Growth: 100%
Notes: Rhode Island is an underrated hockey state in my mind. Did you know that RI has two first overall NHL draft picks (Brian Lawton and Bryan Berard)? Rhodie is also home to Providence College, the AHL’s Providence Bruins and one of the most successful high school teams in hockey history, Mount St. Charles (where Lawton and Berard cut their teeth, as well as Garth Snow and Brian Boucher just to name a few). If you’re a hockey rich state as Rhode Island is, this is the kind of growth you want to see.

State: South Carolina
1990-91: 208
2009-10: 1,407
Growth: 576.4%
Notes: I debated including SC along with my North Carolina numbers in my post on NHL states. Looking back, I probably should have. Regardless, SC has some solid minor league hockey in the state and has shown tremendous growth. This is another one of those states you can look at as a triumph for Southeastern hockey. It’s built a tradition from scratch and only continues to grow.

State: South Dakota
1990-91: 828
2009-10: 2,151
Growth: 159.8%
Notes: South Dakota doesn’t get as much hockey love as its northerly neighbor, but has had no shortage of good hockey. The Sioux Falls Stampede are often one of the better teams in the USHL and the Rapid City Rush has been a strong outfit in the CHL. Those teams have certainly helped move the state in a positive direction.

State: Utah
1990-91: 1,092
2009-10: 3,981
Growth: 264.6%
Notes: Utah has always had some level of minor-league hockey in the state, however a big boost came thanks to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Team USA’s run to the gold-medal game against Canada brought a spike of nearly 1,000 members in the 2002-03 season. More importantly, Utah has kept those players and continues to grow, albeit at a more steady pace.

State: Vermont
1990-91: 2,375
2009-10: 4,443
Growth: 87.1%
Notes: Vermont may be lagging behind its Northeastern neighbors when it comes to growth, but hockey is alive and well. The University of Vermont’s hockey teams are a big deal in the state and continue to influence hockey there. Burlington will host the 2012 World Women’s Championship which should really help boost women’s and girls’ participation. Count on it.

State: Washington
1990-91: 2,389
2009-10: 7,615
Growth: 249.8%
Notes: To be honest, I had no idea this many people played hockey in Washington. It makes a lot of sense. However, Washington is mostly a Junior hockey state. With four WHL clubs, and the very popular Wenatchee Wild of the NAHL, there’s some great hockey entertainment spread throughout the state. Still, I was surprised to see such growth. Good on you, Washington.

State: Wisconsin
1990-91: 5,065
2009-10: 17,697
Growth: 249.4%
Notes: Wisconsin is a fantastic hockey state. Period. The University of Wisconsin is king, but there’s also the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, a staple of high-level minor league hockey. There’s plenty of ice arenas and opportunities in Wisconsin. While it perhaps doesn’t have the numbers of rival Minnesota, or even neighboring Illinois, Wisconsin is in the top tier. Of the states without an NHL franchise, Wisconsin is No. 1 when it comes to membership and passion for the game.

State: West Virginia
1990-91: 596
2009-10: 1,060
Growth: 77.9%
Notes: There hasn’t been expansive growth in West Virginia, but this is another area that virtually built hockey from the ground up in a short amount of time. The Wheeling Nailers, of the ECHL, has been the top hockey draw in the state and has connected well with the youth hockey community.

State: Wyoming
1990-91: 483
2009-10: 1,810
Growth: 274.7%
Notes: This was another surprise for me. There’s not a whole bunch of high-level hockey being played in Wyoming, but the game grows all the same. I can’t really put my finger on what has driven the growth, but it’s nice to see.

Note: Virginia and Maryland were included in the last growth report, having close ties to the Washington Capitals.

So there it is, unless you’re living in Hawaii, hockey is growing around you. Some places have exploded, while others have risen at a more steady pace. No matter what, the game continues to expand its influence throughout the United States. Our neighbors to the North may have the edge when it comes to wide-spread love of the game, but we’re no slouches down here and these numbers are certainly indicative of that.

Special thanks again to Caryn Switaj, who is nearing the end of her run as the Brian Fishman Intern at USA Hockey, for providing these numbers to me. USA Hockey will certainly miss her, as she did an outstanding job there and was always very helpful to me. Best of luck to Caryn in her future endeavors!

For more information on USA Hockey’s statistics, visit its Membership page. Also, to find hockey near you, check out this helpful tool.


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, Junior Hockey, Minor League Hockey, NHL, USA Hockey, Youth Hockey. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Raw Numbers: Hockey’s Growth in Non-NHL States — 1990-2010

  1. Yeti says:

    Very interesting article, Chris. Well done.

  2. Bruce Peter says:

    That’d be 4 WHL teams in Washington state, not 3: Spokane Chiefs, Tri-City Americans (in Kennewick, WA), Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds.

    Good to see Montana have some good growth. I’ve been through Missoula a few times and have noticed the rink there and wondered why the state had no college hockey tradition or why the WHL hadn’t tried to put teams back there again. Part of the problem for Montana is distance: too far from both junior and college hockey markets. If two schools joined, or two cities got WHL teams (Missoula and either Great Falls or Helena, for example), I could see some viability there.

    Again, I really should have bought the history of Portland hockey book I found at Powell’s last year. I honestly don’t think there are many arenas in the state at all, and the Winterhawks have little profile in the Portland community.

    It’d be interesting to see where the hockey growth is occuring in Washington and Idaho. Spokane is a heck of a hockey city, from what I can tell. And Spokane essentially sprawls into Idaho (Couer D’Alene and Post Falls), which might help their growth as well.

  3. rob kaplan says:

    great info Thanks Chris.

  4. Woody says:

    I’d take a stab that the growth in Wyoming hockey came from Northeastern transplants and others moving into the state. My cousins grew up playing in Wyoming and a lot of their teammates started playing outside the state.

    • Woody says:

      Also will add that the Avalanche are a major factor. Cheyenne, the most populace city, is right in the Colorado border and along with Casper follow Denver teams like their own. The Aves were real popular there pre lockout.

  5. Woody says:

    Good news from Alaska. The capital and 3rd largest city Juneau just built a rink in 2003. Before then hockey only exist on precariously frozen ponds, it rains alot even in winter, and was a non factor. After opening the new rink the high school now has a team and every kid in town now is playing at different youth levels. Ten years ago you’d have probably had ten registered players.

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  7. Mike says:

    There are a couple of Hockey teams in Kansas. The Thunder in Wichita, a CHL Team, and Topeka RoadRunners in Topeka, a NAHL Team. There is also a Team in Kansas City, the Missouri Mavericks a CHL Team. There are Hockey options in this great state of Kansas.

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