LAKE PLACID NY - AUGUST 03: Derek Forbert #24 of Team USA returns to bench following his first period goal against Team Sweden at the USA Hockey National Evaluation Camp game on August 3 2010 in Lake Placid New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Over the next few weeks, I'll be talking a lot about the professional game in North America. I thought it'd be interesting to first look at the numbers of registered hockey players in each state of the union, as I think its relevant to the conversation here. I'd love to have more data... such as how many hockey arenas are in use, by state and urban area, but I'm going to use the numbers that I do have right now to provide some context. These numbers were posted by Chris Peters over at The United States of Hockey, which were part of the inspiration for this whole project (though I had collected a lot of the information over the past couple of years).
Chris gave the numbers in a state-by-state rundown, simply posting the totals from 1990-91 and comparing them to the numbers in 2009-10, and giving a growth rate percentage. To give an idea of the presence of 'hockey culture' in the state, I've compared these numbers to the state populations according to US Census data from 1990 and 2010. Admittedly, the vast majority of the data I took from Wikipedia... so if you notice any errors compared to what you see from the original government sources, let me know.
|Rk||State||Pop ('10)||HP ('10)||HP/Pop ('10)||Pop ('90)||HP ('90)||HP/Pop ('90)||HP/Pop +/-
|N/A||District of Columbia||601723||742||0.12%||606900||250||0.04%||0.082%||(+2)|
The "State of Hockey" is a title that Minnesota has taken on, and while its still true that you will find more registered hockey players in Minnesota than anywhere else, if you have a room of 500 Alaskans and 500 Minnesotans, there is likely to be more hockey players from Alaska than Minnesota. Indeed, hockey has really taken off in Alaska in the past 20 years, to the point that they can now claim to be the "state of hockey".
For those wondering, the national figures are as follows:
|Pop 2010||HP 2010||HP/Pop '10||Pop 1990||HP 1990||HP/Pop '90||HP/Pop +/-|
|United States of America||308748481||474592||0.15%||248961424||194304||0.08%||0.076%|
Which means the top twenty states are driving the totals, the bottom thirty are bringing them down to varying degrees.
Much has been written about the growth of hockey in California in this time period, but I think its been overstated compared to the nation as a whole. In fact, California's growth is more reflective of the USA's hockey growth than a driving force behind it. Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and somewhat unfittingly, Montana have told even better stories. They've all outpaced their peer groups from 1990, with the NHL arriving to three of those four states in the 1990s (each state has 1 Stanley Cup as well) that helped build youth programs that have sustained growth. Montana is an interesting case, a northern state that has grown quite rapidly despite not having any professional, NCAA, or major junior hockey programs to point to as inspirations.
Nevada and Arizona don't look that great comparitively, but it is important to note this for the southwestern states: these two states grew in population by 124.70% (Nevada) and 73.45% (Arizona) over this time period, far and away the top two growth rates in the country. That this happened and their 'hockey culture' metric still grew is quite impressive. I have no doubt that this is why both states dropped 8 spots from 1990... its really an unfair statistic for them.
Meanwhile, its really tough to explain Oregon. I shared this fact with the SBN writer's group and I wasn't entirely satisfied with the replies in defence of Oregon. Portland, the major city and home to the only really visible hockey team in the state (the WHL's Portland Winterhawks), is a border city, with the major suburb of Vancouver, Washington across the Columbia River from it. Its possible that Portland youth hockey is growing, and a disproportionate part of it is on the Washington side of the border, but that doesn't explain the whole state to me. Any Oregonians/Portlanders want to illuminate me with numbers of youth memberships and rinks in the Portland metro area/state as a whole will be gladly looked at and published. Its tough to explain why 48 states all grow in hockey culture, but Oregon recedes. There was a significant population boom in this span, but my best explanation is that there aren't any more rinks in the state than there were in 1990.
It is also hard to believe, but twenty years ago there were three states with less of a hockey culture than Hawaii. We can forgive Hawaii for such a low number (but at least play inline/roller hockey after surfing, please!), but its nice to see at least something of a community is being built in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, all who were at 0.00% back in 1990! And for more on Oklahoma's community emerging out of nowhere, read this article by Neal Livingston at The Copper and Blue.
What is perhaps most interesting in general from all of this is that in the USA, hockey is becoming more accessible, not less. Yes, there are significant costs to putting a kid into minor hockey, but there seems to have been a real push to build a lot more facilities and make hockey a greater part of the American lifestyle in the past twenty years. These numbers also reflect the growing impact of women's hockey in the country. We've had a lot of events that can explain the growth: the Gretzky trade was in 1988, right at the beginning of this period; the southern expansion of the NHL; the introduction of NHL players to the Olympics in 1998; the introduction of women's hockey to the Olympics in 1998; the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake in 2002; the post-lockout growth of the NHL, and more.
Hockey is being introduced to kids where it wasn't possible twenty years ago. Hockey is even more popular in the areas it was already strong in 1990. For whatever reason, being an American hockey player is less weird in 2010 than it was in 1990. Hockey is going mainstream, folks. And watch out, the rest of the world.