Something special has been occurring in Minnesota when it comes to young girls playing the state’s sport. Girl’s hockey in Minnesota continues to experience rapid growth for a host of different reasons, including more opportunities, strategic planning, associations dedicating time and volunteers to helping girl’s hockey, and the growing number of women’s hockey role models for younger skaters to look up to.
This special mixture will be on full display on Thursday, Nov. 9th, at 7 p.m. CST, at the Maple Grove Ice Arena when the Minnesota State University and the University of St. Thomas Women’s teams battle in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum Women’s Face-Off Classic.
Tickets for this showcase are $10 and can be purchased here. All ticket proceeds will go toward Sophie’s Squad, the nonprofit organization founded in 2021 to improve the mental health of athletes from youth to college by raising awareness of mental health issues and removing the stigma associated with seeking help.
The college teams will battle for the Hall of Fame Game Trophy, which will be presented to the winning team by Buzz Schneider, gold medalist, the 1980 Men’s U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. The postgame on-ice ceremony will also include a check presentation to Sophie’s Squad.
“We’re super excited to get to host this game,” said Colin Steen, president of the Osseo-Maple Grove Hockey Association. “For us, we’re really focusing on growing the girl’s side of the game, and this showcase is a culmination of our efforts to grow the girl’s game. The event helps these girls see that they can do this too one day and establishes long-term role models that they can look up to, which is critical for them.”
Doug Palazzari, the Executive Director of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, has seen the girl’s game grow rapidly in the State of Hockey through the years. “Minnesota leads the pack. We’ve always been great supporters of women's hockey and have tried to promote it to get it to more people.”
In January, the PWHL will start up, and that will be a catalyst that will hopefully show even more people how great women’s hockey is. “At the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, we try to make sure to pay tribute to women's hockey at the museum, and we really look forward to hosting this showcase,” Palazzari said. “The people who have pushed the women’s game along have done an incredible job, and it can't be overlooked how important the grassroots efforts have been for the growth of girls hockey.”
Girls Hockey Growth in Minnesota
In 2022-23, there were 13,390 registered 18 and under girls skaters in Minnesota, with 5,196 of those skaters being 8 and under, which makes up 20% of all American 8 and under girls skaters. These girls get to play in their hometowns, wearing their community’s logos on their jerseys, while looking up to their role models on the high school teams. And it’s safe to say that there is no shortage of women’s hockey players for these girls to look up to, which has a cyclical effect that keeps growing the game.
When asked what it meant to their team that they get to play in this showcase in front of so many young girls’ skaters who are the future of the game, both coaches, John Harrington, the Head Coach for Minnesota State University, and Joel Johnson, the University of St. Thomas Head Coach, both shared very similar thoughts.
“There are two main things,” said Harrington. “First, for the younger players who are watching, I hope that they establish dreams and goals and are motivated to get to the next level from watching us. As a young player, you look up to the high school and college players, and you want to be just like them. Secondly, there’s a responsibility for Mankato State University and the University of St. Thomas to put on a good show and a competitive game that we’re proud of, understanding that this is a showcase for what the women’s game is and what these young girls can do themselves one day. For the players, it’s important that they show off their game in this showcase and make an impact on future players.
“It’s a really big privilege,” said Johnson. “And the players feel the same way. At some point, when they were kids, they were the ones watching their role models and being inspired by them. Now they get to trade it back, and they cherish having the opportunity to do that for the next generation of players.” As these girls aspire to be like their idols, the base of skaters that achieve success grows, allowing for even more future idols for the next generation to look up to.
This matchup in particular is a perfect showcase of this. The University of St. Thomas roster has 22 Minnesotans, and the Minnesota State roster has 18 Minnesotans. That means that 40 of the 54 players rostered on these teams are from Minnesota, which points to a very positive trend: 33% of all NCAA DI Women’s hockey players are from Minnesota. This success is not by accident, but because of an environment that is built to give more girls the chance to get on the ice and grow the game.
Johnson provided insight into what has led to this. “There are two big things here. The first is that there are so many role models for these young girls when they consider what they want to do growing up, and it’s not a foreign concept when they are able to have role models that show what they can do. If you can see it, you can be it, and that really helps these young girls, especially when there are so many women’s college and professional players that they can look up to and aspire to be. Secondly, there are so many opportunities for girls’ skaters in Minnesota, with so many community-owned rinks and so many players providing the chance for these girls to play high-level competition at home."
Harrington echoed a similar sentiment when asked about the growth of girl’s hockey in Minnesota. “The colleges and universities in Minnesota have a gold mine, with so many outstanding players in the state,” he said. “The development they get in their community-based programs is great and shows that Minnesota really does it the right way by developing players in not only their skills but also their enjoyment of the game, which lasts a lifetime.”
For the girls who attend this game, you can certainly bet on the fact that it’s inspiring to see so many role models who they can look up to and allow them to realize that they too can achieve that success one day. It’s one thing to be told you can be successful and achieve your dreams; it’s another thing to see that you can be successful and achieve your dreams.
The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame has seen plenty of change throughout its time, but one thing has remained constant: the Minnesota Model. Because of the non-profit community-based model, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2023, more girls are stepping on the ice in their hometowns and are able to continue playing hockey due to the much lower prices than what is seen elsewhere across the country. The pride of a community creates an atmosphere where volunteers give time and energy to fundraise, donate, and drive initiatives that help offset costs and recruit more new girls into the sport. This allows for so many girls to stay home, pay far less and play against hyper-competitive competition without ever needing to get on a plane. With such a hotbed of talent, it’s no surprise that Minnesota has been turning out so many high-level girl’s hockey players.
Don’t Forget About the Arenas!
It’s the most underappreciated part of hockey in Minnesota, but the publicly funded community-owned ice arenas are the homes that allow these players to develop. In most places outside of Minnesota, arenas are typically owned by private businesses. This leads to much higher costs to play hockey and makes it harder to get new players into the game. In Minnesota, the rinks operate publicly. As a result, the cost of playing hockey is tremendously lower, which allows more girls to try hockey and keep playing the game. It’s often overlooked, but it can’t be stated enough just how important these community-owned rinks are to the game of hockey in the State of Hockey.
When asked about the importance of having publicly funded community-owned ice arenas, Steen talked about the benefits that the Osseo-Maple Grove community gets: “It’s huge that it’s community-owned for us; the Osseo-Maple Grove Hockey Association is the biggest tenant at the community center, and for us to call it home where anyone can come and watch from the community is huge. It allows us to attract a more diverse population as it’s for the community, and we can showcase our association. One cool thing that we do in the arena is have a wall that shows all of the players who have advanced to NCAA Division I and beyond, which shows kids coming in that they can go as far as they want. We’re very thankful that our community has understood the importance of funding the arena and the value that having a publicly funded community-owned ice arena brings to the kids in our community.
About the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame
The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame looks to celebrate the game of hockey and to help fans love the game even more. “We really want to celebrate the game and bring it alive to anyone who loves hockey or anyone who hasn’t yet fallen in love with the game. We want to put all hockey on a pedestal for people to see and appreciate. Having this showcase is a great way to really show off the women’s game, and we can’t wait to host this great event!” said Palazzari.
The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum (www.ushockeyhall.com) opened in 1973 with the goal of preserving the rich history of ice hockey in the United States while recognizing the extraordinary contributions of select players, coaches, administrators, officials, and teams.