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Why the Minnesota Way is the Olympic Way

02/07/2014, 2:15pm CST
By Aaron Paitich

“Great moments are born from great opportunities.”

That famous line came from the late great St. Paul native, Herb Brooks. Although he may have been speaking to a bunch of college kids prior to the Miracle on Ice in 1980, the meaning of it can be applied and directly traced back to the hockey culture here in Minnesota.

It’s no surprise we continue to consistently produce Olympians—the best hockey players in the world. But why?

Community equals opportunity. Minnesota Hockey’s age-old community-based model provides more opportunities for kids to play, learn and love the game. The numbers don’t lie—it works.

There are 143 total men and women that have played Olympic hockey. This year, the State of Hockey will proudly add 11 more to the list.

“We are extremely proud of the Minnesota women and men named to the U.S. Olympic team and wish them the best at Sochi,” says Minnesota Hockey President Dave Margenau. “Our community-based model affords the opportunity for the greatest number of individuals to develop a passion for the game and achieve the highest level of competition, a testament to the thousands of coaches, officials and administrators who make this possible.”

Former Olympic captain Natalie Darwitz knows how unique and successful the
culture is.

“Minnesota has been able to consistently produce Olympians as there are the resources in the State of Hockey that provide an opportunity for hockey players to thrive and develop more than any other state,” says Darwitz, a product of the Eagan Hockey Association and current head coach of the Lakeville South High School girls’ hockey team.

Play for Your Town
But it’s not just us that recognize the benefits of community-based hockey. Quinnipiac surged to the NCAA Frozen Four last season with four Minnesota natives on the roster. In a video interview with Connecticut Hockey, head coach Rand Pecknold praised Minnesota’s community-based structure.

“You look right now at the best state at producing hockey players, by far, is Minnesota,” said Pecknold. “You play for your town. You play for your town the whole way through. You’re locked in with your best friends for life. You play hockey and you don’t quit—because you’re always playing with your buddies and you’re having fun.

“You get to a point and a lot of these kids will blossom at 16, 17, 18 years old. Right now, the Minnesota model, nothing even touches it. It’s the best model going. The numbers don’t lie. They produce so many players for Division-I hockey and the NHL.”

Mike Snee, the executive director of College Hockey, Inc. and formerly of Minnesota Hockey, knows firsthand the advantages of hockey players growing up here.

“The community-based associations that hockey is built off of in Minnesota makes hockey more accessible than anywhere else in the country,” says Snee. “It’s noteworthy and exciting that the 11 Minnesotans on the men’s and women’s rosters represent 10 different communities. Along with the associations, community-owned rinks and passionate volunteers make it easier for a family to participate in hockey, and that is unique to Minnesota. And the development that unintentionally occurs when playing on outdoor rinks can’t be overlooked either.”

Let’s Take it Outside
We Minnesotans do not fear the cold. We embrace it. Every winter, we gather at our local outdoor ponds, lakes and parks for some pickup hockey. The unstructured environment not only fosters a love for the game, but unintentionally strengthens our skill base, creativity and hockey sense. Now that’s a win-win.

“Minnesota Hockey understands the needs to be a skills-development base,” says Darwitz. “But they also have the unstructured pond hockey mentality in which a combination of a high skill set and hockey sense create some of the best hockey players in the U.S., if not, the world.”

Premier Development
After our youth hockey players grow to learn and love the game as Mites, Squirts and Peewees, there are premier development opportunities for boys and girls who want to pursue hockey after high school. The Reebok Minnesota Hockey High Performance programs have proven to produce elite talent, year after year.

These programs identify and develop the state’s top talent. Players from all across the state come together to compete with and against Minnesota’s best. Players gain unprecedented exposure from junior, college and professional scouts.

Want to be an Olympian someday? Want to play professional or college hockey? The High Performance programs offer players the best opportunity to develop and advance.

Team USA had an opportunity to shock the world in 1980. For every player on that roster—including the 12 Minnesotans—they wouldn’t have gotten there without the opportunities they received as youngsters. And perhaps without the hockey culture embedded into this state, it might have never happened.

Minnesota Hockey is committed to providing more opportunities, and more miracles.

“The community-based associations that hockey is built off of in Minnesota makes hockey more accessible than anywhere else in the country” 
– Mike Snee, Executive Director, College Hockey, Inc.

Thank You, Volunteers!

Communities and opportunities require one key component to success: Volunteers. Without our volunteers, Minnesota Hockey is nothing. Thank you to all managers, fundraisers, concession stand workers, tournament directors, outdoor rink flooders—the list goes on. Our volunteers drive the strength and success of Minnesota Hockey.
Nominate your local hero for the Total Hockey Volunteer of the Month by visiting MinnesotaHockey.org.

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