When people suggest bringing a United States Hockey League (USHL) team back to Minnesota, many questions pop into their head. Many debates, that it will not work because Minnesota has tried it before and failed. Others argue that the hockey market is too saturated and Minnesota does not have the fan base to support it. Furthermore, (and my favorite argument) some claim that having a USHL team in Minnesota will hurt the culture of the beloved High School hockey. These are all questions that seem to make people shy away from the idea of adding a USHL team to Minnesota. My goal of this piece is not to necessarily convince you to hop off the USHL bandwagon but to inform you about some of the positives of bringing a USHL team to Minnesota.
Minnesota has had two USHL franchise (four different teams) in the past and all failed due to lack of attendance and poor funding. The Rochester Mustangs/Austin Mavericks existed in the USHL from 1961-1970 and 1977-2002. Some notable players from these teams included; Herb Brooks, Lou Nanne, and Bob Fleming. The other franchise was the St. Paul/Twin Cities Vulcans, which existed from 1977-2000. Notable Vulcans include; Phil Housley, Jim Johnson, Trent Klatt and Johnny Pohl. The first thing we have to look at when comparing these teams to a present day team is the fact that league itself is completely different than it was back then. Back then, the USHL wasn’t considered a tier 1 junior hockey development league. Today, the USHL is considered to be in the top-3 junior leagues in the world. It attracts the best players from all over the world and 95% of its players receive Division I scholarships. If you need to know more about the USHL, watch this video: USHL VIDEO. Stars in the NHL like TJ Oshie, Blake Wheeler, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews and many others played in the USHL on the way to the NHL. The three finalists for college hockey’s most prestige award, the Hobey Baker, are all USHL alumni. The USHL has now become the preferred route of player development by many colleges and NHL scouts.
I understand Minnesota has an NHL team, five D1 teams, ten D3 teams, three NAHL teams, six NA3HL teams, and heavy high school hockey following but there is still room for a USHL team. Here’s why; If a team was to come to Minnesota, it would probably replace an existing NAHL or NA3HL team. For example, if the team were to come back to Rochester, it could replace the Rochester Icehawks and maybe even the Austin Bruins of the NAHL (could also become an affiliate). The location of Rochester is perfect because far enough away from other teams it would have to compete with attendance. 75 miles south of St. Paul, 86 miles southeast of Minneapolis, 80 miles west of Mankato, Rochester is a hole in the State of Hockey that loves the game. The proposed plans for the new Rochester Arena would also draw hockey fans to the area. This arena would be perfect for a USHL team and could attract other hockey events to Minnesota like the NCAA College Hockey Regionals and much more.
There is no doubt that there are hockey fans all over the state. A USHL team will consist of future D1 athletes and high school hockey heroes that you will recognize from across the state. Going to USHL game would potentially be much cheaper than attending a Wild or collegiate hockey game. If you have been to a USHL game before you can back me on this, it is some of the best/most exciting hockey you will ever watch. You are going to see the same level of talent as you as would at a D1 game. The USHL team will attract fans for a bargain price compared to the other options while still getting to see great hockey. It could be right here in our backyard.
There is no bigger fan of high school hockey in Minnesota than myself. But that, by no means, should shy you from supporting a USHL team in Minnesota. High school hockey has a rich and beautiful tradition and a USHL will not team take away from that. USHL players come from all over the country, all over the world even. What the USHL would do for Minnesota is provide another stage of the development process for the kids that want to move on to the next level and stay home in the State of Hockey. We will still have incredible talent at the high school level. As a fan of hockey, you want to see kids competing at the highest level possible. If that means leaving your senior year of high school to play in the USHL, so be it. You cannot hate the player for that. He is trying to play at the highest level and move on to the next level. We see how beloved the high school game is every year at the Xcel Energy Center in March. 18,000+ fans are there for The Tourney and that’s not going to change anytime soon as attendance continues to increase year by year. But wouldn’t you love to see those kids you see play at “X,” play in at home in the USHL too? Not many kids can make the jump from the Minnesota State High School League to D1. Many kids need a year or two at the junior hockey level to develop more before heading to college. With all the talent we have here, shouldn’t Minnesota have the best development league for our hometown heroes to succeed in?
Like I said earlier, I’m not trying to tell you to hurry up and go support a USHL coming to Minnesota. However, I am encouraging you to consider the possibilities and weigh the positives and negatives of bringing a USHL team to Minnesota. In my opinion, it only seems right to have the best junior hockey league in the State of Hockey.