From new programs at the youngest levels to setting new records and international successes, the 2016 calendar year was one to remember for hockey in Minnesota. So before the 2016-17 season starts heating up for the second half, let’s take a look back at 10 of the highlights of 2016.
10. Goalie Goes Viral
The number one reason kids play sports is to have fun. Is there any better example of that than this Squirt goalie’s moves?
9. Tops in #cawlidgehockey
With 203 men and 147 women from Minnesota playing NCAA Division I hockey at the start of the 2016-17 season, Minnesota continues to lead the country in producing elite male and female college hockey players by a large margin. Another college hockey milestone occurred on November 7, 2016 when all five Division I Men’s Hockey teams in Minnesota were ranked in the top 15 in the country, including top-ranked Minnesota Duluth.
8. More than a Little Wild
The Little Wild Learn to Play program took Minnesota by storm a couple of years ago and has continued to grow, introducing nearly 1,000 kids to hockey this fall. In 2016, the Minnesota Wild also launched a series of new programs, many of which were in partnership with Minnesota Hockey, designed to celebrate, support and promote all types of hockey in the State of Hockey. The new initiatives included the awarding of first-ever Wild Idea Grants, an expanded Thanksgiving Food Drive, Girls Hockey Weekend, Holiday Mite Jamboree and much more.
7. Hockey Day Minnesota in Duluth
It’s hard to fathom this event getting any bigger or better. Yet, it seems to grow every year. In 2016, the outdoor hockey celebration took place at Bayfront Park in Duluth, where neighborhood associations still host the majority of their practices and games on outdoor rinks at the youngest levels. We can’t wait to see what Stillwater has in store for Hockey Day Minnesota in 2017!
6. NHL Draft Kings
In June, Kieffer Bellows (Edina) and Riley Tufte (Blaine) were selected 19th (New York Islanders) and 25th (Dallas Stars) respectively in the 2016 NHL Draft. The last time two Minnesotans were taken in the first round was in 2010 when Nick Bjugstad, Brock Nelson and Derek Forbort were selected. A total of 11 Minnesotans and 55 Americans were drafted this summer.
5. Back-to-Back Champs
Minnesota Women's Hockey won back-to-back national championships for the third time in program history in 2016 and now own an NCAA-best seven national titles. The Gophers have won four of the last five national championships. To make it even more exciting, the Gopher Women are achieving this level of consistent success with mostly local girls as 18 of the 25 (72%) players were from Minnesota.
Representing your high school on the varsity hockey team is a special honor in Minnesota. Scoring a SportsCenter Top 10 type of goal to send your squad to the state tournament in front of your entire school is on a level of its own. Oh, and, did we mention Stillwater is now 11-0 to start 2016-17 as they prepare to host Hockey Day Minnesota 2017?
3. Golden Girls
Gold medals are hard to come by, but you wouldn’t know that by watching the U.S. Under-18 team. They won a second straight gold medal in the Under-18 Women’s World Championships last January. A stunning 16 of the 22 players were from Minnesota and Eastview native Natalie Snodgrass scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the championship game against Canada. The U.S. Under-18 team, featuring 11 Minnestoans, will go for the three-peat this January.
2. The First of a Lifetime
Each person’s life is full of firsts, but it’s only every once in a while that you experience a first at the same time as your entire team or community. In 2016, a few teams had the chance to do just that as the Andover Girls 12U A team captured the first ever Minnesota Hockey State Tournament championship for their community at any age level. Wayzata also made history by winning its first Minnesota High School Hockey State Championship.
1. State of Hockey Keeps Growing
People across Minnesota, even those who don’t play the game themselves, take pride in being the State of Hockey. After 2016, we can confidently say the future of the State of Hockey looks bright as more and more kids are taking the ice. Minnesota Hockey established a new state record of 8 & Under (8U) players with 17,651. The total number of 8U players marks a third consecutive year of growth and the first time any state has boasted more than 17,000 8U players. Minnesota Hockey also set new records for total girls/women (13,417) and total registered players (56,817).
Minnesota Hockey would like to say thank you to all of the volunteers, coaches, officials, parents and players who made 2016 such a remarkable year. We wish everyone the best of luck in 2017!