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The 10 Best Hockey Cities in America

Steve SilvermanFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 1, 2017

The 10 Best Hockey Cities in America

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    Hockey tends to struggle to hold its own with the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA in the United States.

    The other sports tend to dominate on television and that gives them an edge in nearly all popularity polls.

    However, that doesn't mean that American sports fans don't love their hockey. The game has passionate fans in nearly all its NHL cities in the United States, but the game has roots in Detroit, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul that are far greater than those in Miami or Dallas.

    Here's a look at the 10 best U.S. hockey cities.

10. San Jose

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    The San Jose Sharks were an expansion team in 1991-92.

    It was not a given that they would ever be successful. The NHL had tried to make hockey work in Northern California in the 1967-68 expansion when they brought the Oakland Seals into the fold. They were later bought by eccentric Oakland A's owner Charles O. Finley who changed their name to the California Golden Seals.

    No matter what the franchise was called, the Seals failed miserably.

    But instead of taking misstep after misstep, the Sharks have established themselves as a powerful force and a winning franchise. They have made the playoffs 13 of the last 14 years.

    The fans follow them with passion and sell out every game.

    San Jose loves hockey.

No. 9. St. Louis

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    When the St. Louis Blues shocked the hockey world by rising from the ashes and finishing second in the Western Conference last year, it reawakened one of the most passionate fanbases in the United States.

    The St. Louis Blues have been a vital part of the sports scene in St. Louis since their first season in 1967-68. They were in the Stanley Cup Finals their first three seasons and fans have loved the team even through ownership and arena issues throughout the years.

    Perhaps they were inspired by those early teams or the voice of their superlative play-by-play announcer Dan Kelly, but hockey quickly became the No. 2 professional sport in town besides baseball.

    The resurgence of the Blues meant their fans had something to cheer about and Blues fans are among the loudest and most intimidating in U.S. cities.

No. 8. Pittsburgh

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    The Penguins were an afterthought in Pittsburgh for many years.

    When they joined the league in the 1967-68 expansion, the Penguins were among the weakest of the new teams and their fans appeared to have little interest.

    There was some curiosity, but the Penguins were like cute pets. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates were the city's true loves.

    But the Penguins hung in there and when they drafted megastar Mario Lemieux and built a super surrounding cast around him, they were embraced and soon became a first-class team.

    It's difficult to imagine this city without an NHL team thanks to the legacy that was started by Lemieux and continued by Sidney Crosby.

No. 7 Buffalo

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    Buffalo is often on the outskirts. The city's only other major league franchise is the NFL's Buffalo Bills, and they are often looked at as one of the weak sisters of that powerful sports league.

    The city has never been home to a major league baseball franchise and the NBA's Buffalo Braves lasted only a few seasons before they high-tailed it to California and eventually became the Los Angeles Clippers.

    But the city has had a sensational love affair with the Sabres since they joined the NHL in the 1970-71 expansion.

    Since Buffalo is so close to the Canadian partner, hockey has long been a passion for the city. But the presence of the Sabres gave fans an outlet for it.

    From their earliest years, the Sabres were exciting to watch. The brilliance of Gilbert Perreault and his French Connection teammates Richard Martin and Rene Robert was eye-catching. The Sabres built a powerhouse that played for the Stanley Cup in 1975.

    The fans have never stopped loving the team or the game of hockey.

No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks

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    The "roar" can bring goosebumps.

    The roar began at the old Chicago Stadium and it started out as a low, throaty rumble in the throats of the fans who attended Chicago Blackhawks games. It would build to a crescendo as the national anthem was presented.

    It may have started with the patriotic song, but it was really about the passion that Chicago fans had for the game of hockey and their Blackhawks.

    Fans loved the excitement that old-timers like Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita brought to their city, and that feeling has been the constant companion of this team.

    Even when they moved out of their beloved old barn and across the street to the United Center, the fans have remained devoted to the Blackhawks.

    When they won the 2010 Stanley Cup—their first since 1961—more than two million fans celebrated their victory in a parade and ceremony.

No. 5 New York City

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    Great restaurants, scintillating nightlife and perhaps the busiest city in the world.

    New York cannot be defined by any one passion and when it comes to sports, you can't call the Big Apple a Yankees town, a Mets town or a Knicks town.

    It is all of those. But don't ever make the mistake of thinking that New York City is not a hockey town.

    The New York Rangers are beloved and followed by one of the most passionate fanbases in the United States.

    The Rangers have been selling out Madison Square Garden for decades.

    Their fans were dying for a championship team because the Rangers had not won the Stanley Cup since 1940.

    However, when Mark Messier & Co. delivered the Stanley Cup in 1994, grown men wept with joy.

    They finally won the cup, an event that they never thought they would see in their lifetime. It was joyous and celebrated in New York's Canyon of Heroes.

    The Rangers were the heroes of the city and they are always loved, even if their fans are not always overjoyed with their performance.

No. 4 Philadelphia

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    Ed Snider fought an uphill battle when he decided to go forth with an NHL expansion team in Philadelphia in 1967-68.

    He heard all kinds of criticisms and predictions that Philadelphia would never support a hockey team.

    Snider decided that the city deserved a hockey team and that fans would come to support it.

    Snider's prediction missed the mark. The Philadelphia fans didn't just support the team. They made it their own and developed a passion for the Flyers that has never waned.

    The team would win the Stanley Cup in 1974 and '75. Those Flyers teams were rough and tumble and would be more than happy to drop the gloves at any moment to exert their dominance, but they were also skilled hockey players.

    Since those championship days, the Flyers fans are still waiting for the team in orange and black to do it again, but their support has never slipped.

No. 3 Boston

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    Boston supports all of its sports teams with passion, but the Red Sox and Bruins sit on top of the ladder.

    Perhaps its because the greatest hitter of all played left field for the Red Sox in Ted Williams.

    Perhaps its because the greatest player of all time skated in the Boston Garden in Bobby Orr.

    The Bruins are about heartbreak ... and joy.

    The team of Orr, Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers and Derek Sanderson helped transform what had been a popular sport into an event that was followed with near-religious fervor.

    How else do you explain the greatest bumper sticker of all-time?

    "Jesus Saves ... And Espo Scores on the Rebound."

    The fans follow the Bruins with passion, but it's also about college, high school and youth hockey.

    Like Canadian neighbors to the north, many Boston parents have their children skating and playing hockey before the age of four (Orr's legendary number).

    The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, breaking a 39-year drought. It was catharsis for fans who had been waiting devotedly for such a moment.

No. 2 Detroit

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    Detroit dubbed itself "Hockeytown" long ago as a marketing ploy.

    It's a name that fits well.

    The Red Wings have been followed by a passionate and loyal fanbase for decades.

    It started long ago, even before Gordie Howe started playing for them in the 1946-47 season.

    They were among the NHL's elite and by far the best of the American-based Original Six teams.

    While there was a long dry spell in the 1970s and '80's, their fanbase continued to support the team. When their stars matured in the '90's, the Red Wings started bringing home championships.

    Few cities ever appreciated championship play more than Detroit did for its Red Wings.

No. 1 Minneapolis-St. Paul

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    This piece is about the best hockey cities in the United States.

    If it was simply about the best NHL cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul would not be at the top.

    The Twin Cities lost the North Stars to Dallas and the Wild are an expansion team.

    But hockey is in the blood of all Minnesota residents.

    It is as much a part of their lives as it is to Canadian fans.

    In the winter months, Minnesotans skate and play hockey. The state high school hockey finals are a huge event and people miss work just to see a high school champion crowned.

    College hockey is huge in Minnesota. Miracle on Ice coach Herb Brooks perfected his technique by coaching at the University of Minnesota.

    Fans loved the North Stars and now follow the Wild.

    The signing of superstar free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter may give this team a chance at the Stanley Cup within two or three years.

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