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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Boston: The Premiere Hockey Town

Northeastern+University+hockey.

Northeastern University hockey.

For hockey fans, there’s debate over which area is the best in terms of the contributions and celebrations to the sport. In Canada, the birthplace of the sport, the debate will never end: which town has done it best? It’s hard because every place, from Burnaby to Cole Harbor, has played a part to every famous figure and team.

Here in the States, it’s easier. For Boston and the Bay State, there are plenty of reasons why Boston has a strong and vibrant hockey culture in the United States. Some people often see Minnesota as the best in this regard, but really, we’re better than you, Minnesota!

It all started when the NHL decided to expand beyond its Canadian borders and added our beloved Bruins in the 1924-25 season. Just five years later, we won the first Stanley Cup. Not long after, the presence and early popularity of the Bruins also helped college hockey to flourish in the city with programs at Boston College and Boston University taking shape.

Those institutions, along with Northeastern and Harvard, would later become part of an annual tradition called the Beanpot Hockey Tournament, which began in 1952. The 1930s also saw one of the first American-born stars in the league with Bruins goalie Frank Brimsek, a two-time Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup winner and eight-time league All-Star.

While the popularity of hockey simmered in Boston and New England for less than 30 years after the Bruins 1939 and 1941 championships, it would enjoy a grand renaissance as Bobby Orr burst onto the scene. The fandom that would grow with the 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cup champion teams known for being “big and bad” motivated children and their parents to invest in training programs for the sport. This would shape the college hockey scene by the late 1960s onward.

In that timeframe, Boston University’s squad, coached by a pair of Jacks, the first being “Snooks” Kelley, and the latter the more famous Parker, would win three NCAA titles from 1971 to 1978. NHL teams began to take notice of the growing talent pool of the Bay State, and the infusion of Massachusetts-born stars would take shape with Beverly native Bobby Carpenter being selected in the 1981 NHL draft, the first American-born first round pick. Carpenter would be the first American to have a 50-goal season.

More Bay State blue-chips would follow, starting with Tom Barrasso and Kevin Stevens in 1983, as well as Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte five years later. Those two would finish their careers among the top 10 American-born players in goals scored, joined by Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk, and Scott Young, Commonwealth natives.

How does it add up to today? The high school scene may not quite be as parity-laden or popular as Minnesota, with Catholic Memorial being the dominant player and the University of Massachusetts Boston’s neighbor, BC High, among the rivals always nipping at their heels. They contribute to the recruitment pool of many college hockey programs in the state: Beanpot rivals Boston College and Boston University hold five NCAA championships each. Harvard also has an NCAA title, back in 1989 when their current coach and former Bruins fan favorite Ted Donato was among the stars of the heroic Crimson. While they only have four Beanpots and a pair of Hockey East tournament titles to show for it, Northeastern does have a gem of a barn that is older than Fenway Park and was the original home for the Bruins and the Beanpot.

Outside of Boston, UMass Lowell has become a national power and a potential title-contender every year under Norm Bazin, while UMass Amherst and Merrimack have enjoyed occasional tastes of success while contributing notable NHL talent, particularly former Minutemen Jonathan Quick and Conor Sheary.

On the NHL scale, there are 15 Massachusetts-born players in the league today, with BU standouts Jack Eichel, young Bruin defensemen Matt Grezlcyk, and Charlie McAvoy among the noteworthy names. While that pales to Minnesota’s nation-leading 46 active NHL skaters, quality always trumps quantity, and it’s success that Boston and Massachusetts hockey teams have come to be about.

So remember this when debating with any hockey fan raised outside of New England, especially from Minnesota: Brimsek, a Minnesota man, never could get the chance to play in the league that would not give the Gopher state a franchise until 1967 if he didn’t go beyond his familiar turf. Herb Brooks, the three-time national champion of the Golden Gophers of the ‘70s and the 1980 U.S. Olympic champions, would not have won the latter honor without the help of Boston-born and raised, BU Terrier, and American captain Mike Eruzione, and fellow Bay Stater, Terrier, and heroic goaltender Jim Craig.

There’s no other U.S. state whose populace has done so much for the game of hockey the way Massachusetts has done. This is why I see us as the greatest hockey state.

Furthermore, UMass Boston has reaped the benefits of this title with a Division III Frozen Four run in 2016. With further success, I can see the UMass Boston men’s and women’s hockey teams becoming successful Division I teams like UMass Lowell.