Hockey may have strong grassroots and heritage in Canada, but over the past century, the sport has really grown throughout the United States. There are 17 states with a professional hockey team that has a pretty solid following.
But what are the top states for the game of hockey in the United States?
When Nash is no longer a Blue Jacket, the interest in hockey will take a huge dip in Ohio.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a floundering franchise in need of a massive rebuild. There is really nothing going for them when it comes to hockey. They are one of the worst-attended franchises and a major reason why the league should no longer expand into unconventional markets.
North Carolina is primarily a college basketball state. Plus, it has a few high-profile college football teams and the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. All of which forces the Carolina Hurricanes to often take a back seat.
The Hurricanes drew national attention when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006. It was the first season after the lockout and it was important for the sport. It was interesting and beneficial to see an unconventional market take home the league's top prize.
Nonetheless, Carolina isn't one of the league's most popular locales.
Florida isn't exactly a top hockey state. It doesn't have a hardcore following due to the infancy of its teams in the league. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a team on the rise, and the Florida Panthers are starting to emerge as a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Blake Geoffrion strangely is the only active player from the state of Florida in the NHL.
The Lightning and Panthers recent success gives hockey some hope in this region.
The Phoenix Coyotes have changed the perception of their team over the course of a year. Mike Smith and the 'Yotes have been one of the NHL's pleasant surprises this season.
Phoenix is tied with Dallas in points. If the Coyotes can overtake Dallas, they will win the Pacific Division and finish third in the conference.
While Arizona may not be a hockey hotbed, at least the on-ice talent is something worth mentioning.
Beaches, beautiful women, celebrities and Hollywood are what most people think of when asked about California. The state put out a great commercial featuring these characteristics, but there was no mention of hockey.
the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings all play there. Each team has been a solid contributor in the NHL. The Ducks are the only California team to win a Stanley Cup, and Brooks Orpik is the most famous player from the state.
Although hockey in California may have a strong following from the loyal fans, it isn't one of the top states for hockey.
The Dallas Stars, formerly the Minnesota North Stars, have been successful bringing hockey to Texas. The Stars have had great Americans like Mike Modano and Brett Hull represent them internationally and in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Stars also are one of the top teams in the Western Conference. In addition, the state is also the home of Brian Leetch, one of the best offensive defensemen in league history.
The District of Columbia is the home of the Washington Capitals. As a state, it isn't one of the most popular when it comes to hockey. It is only in recent years that the Capitals have increased in popularity. Led by Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals are in the heart of a playoff race.
As a whole, the Capitals are a team that is well known because of its superstar Ovechkin, and that really helps the game of hockey.
Tennessee has recently emerged as a hockey hotbed. The Nashville Predators are one of the league's most successful expansion franchises. Led by stars Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the Predators are one of the top contenders to win this year's Stanley Cup.
There are no players in the history of the league born in the state, but as a whole, the Predators have done a great job of expanding hockey in the United States.
The New Jersey Devils are one of the middle-aged teams in the NHL, but they made a large contribution to the sport, winning three Stanley Cups in the 1990s and early 2000s.
While goalie Martin Brodeur is not a native of New Jersey, it is hard to argue that he hasn't been one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
New Jersey has produced top players like Bobby Ryan and James Van Riemsdyk, players who could be the future faces of their respective teams. All in all, New Jersey is a nice state for the game of hockey.
The St.Louis Blues have done a great job representing Missouri this season. The Blues have taken the league by storm and were the first team in the NHL to reach the 100-point plateau.
Hockey may not be very popular in St.Louis, but it is home to one of the league's former greats. Pat LaFontaine is a St.Louis resident and could have had a greater NHL career had concussions not cut short his career.
Hockey may not come to mind when you think of St.Louis, but the Blues do a great job representing the game there.
Colorado is home to the Avalanche and to Mike Eaves, head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers. He's one of the nation's most important hockey minds, having has coached such top NHL players such as Joe Pavelski, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Jack Skille and Ryan Suter.
The Avs have been a top team the past few years and have won two Stanley Cups. Famous Avs alumni include Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, two players who have made major contributions to the sport.
Colorado is also the home of USA Hockey. Its team's headquarters is in Colorado Springs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers are two of the Eastern Conference's top teams.
The state hasn't generated many notable hockey players like some of the other states on the list, but the Flyers and Penguins generate tons of interest for the sport as a whole.
Mario Lemieux has been an ambassador for the sport and really saved the franchise in Pittsburgh. And Sidney Crosby of the Penguins is the sport's most marketable and recognizable face.
In Chicago, the Blackhawks are king and have one of the highest attendance percentages in the NHL. The city rejoiced when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2009-10.
Illinois is also known for generating many top-notch players. Throughout the league's history, players like Chris Chellios and Ed Olyczk have represented Chicago and the state of Illinois honorably.
When you consider the history associated with the city, the star power of the Blackhawks and the players who have come out of Illinois, it is a no-brainer to include the state as one of the top hockey states in America.
Massachusetts is the home of an Original Six team in the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are one of the oldest teams in the NHL and are the defending Stanley Cup champions.
In addition, Boston University and Boston College are hockey powerhouses in the NCAA. The state seems to be a factory for turning out pros. They range from players like Keith Yandle to prospect Chris Kreider.
No matter how you slice it, the Bay State is an extraordinary state for the game of hockey.
The Empire State is home to three hockey teams. Two are located in the New York Metro area and one is located in upstate New York. Madison Square Garden is known as the world's most famous arena and the mecca of all sports and it is home to the Rangers.
The Rangers, Islanders and Sabres all have a rich history. Notable players from the state include Rangers' captain Ryan Callahan, Los Angeles Kings' captain Dustin Brown, Chicago Blackhawks' star forward Patrick Kane and Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings.
New York may be filled with other major sports. but there are truly a lot of diehards who support the game of hockey.
When you look at Michigan, it is clear why it is so high on this list. Besides being the home of the Detroit Red Wings, one of the Original Six, the University of Michigan and Michigan State do a great job representing the sport in the NCAA.
The state also has produced top goaltenders like Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas, to name a few of the NHL all-stars from the state.
This pick was the most obvious, Minnesota's nickname, "The State of Hockey," makes it a clear favorite for the top hockey state in the U.S. Fans were thrilled beyond belief when the Minnesota Wild entered the league in 2000. Fans were distraught when the Minnesota North Stars re-located to Texas.
Besides the Wild, Minnesota is a very hockey-oriented state when it comes to college, high school and grassroots organizations. There are also many players in the NHL who were born in the state.
One is Zach Parise, captain of the New Jersey Devils.
All in all, the state of Minnesota is really great for the NHL in the United States.
Tom Urtz is an NHL featured columnist.
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