50 Best Hockey Cities in North America

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IJanuary 25, 2012

50 Best Hockey Cities in North America

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    All over North America, there are great towns and cities in which you can watch a great hockey game as part of an exciting group of fans.

    Whether it's an NHL team, a junior club or a college team, there are hockey fans in every corner of the map.

    Let's look around the continent and rank the 50 best hockey cities. It was certainly easier to come up with the bottom few than it was to separate those at the top.

50. Glendale/Phoenix*

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    Arizona as a whole gets an asterisk on their ranking because they'll only be eligible to be on this list for a few more months.

    There has never been consistent support for the Coyotes, and the failed experiment of hockey in the desert should come to an end soon.

49. Uniondale (New York)

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    How much do the folks in Uniondale love their Islanders? Just enough to leave them broke and rotting in one of the worst facilities in all professional sports.

    Their owner is struggling to make ends meet in one of the largest markets in the free world.

48. Sunrise (Florida)

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    It has always been an uphill climb for the Panthers in Florida, and this season might be their best chance yet to win over a non-traditional hockey market.

    There are some talented young players working their way up with the Panthers, but is there anyone there to notice them?

47. Hartford

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    They may have lost their Whalers, but the Connecticut Whale of the AHL have continued to give hockey fans something to cheer for over the last few years.

    Who knows, maybe they'll get another chance at an NHL franchise some time soon?

46. Quebec City

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    They're trying to get a team, and might only have to wait until this summer when the Coyotes move.

    There continues to be a love for the Nordiques years after they left.

45. Kitchener (Ontario)

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    The Kitchener Rangers of the OHL have maintained a great hockey atmosphere by continuing to produce elite talent for the NHL.

    From Larry Robinson, Al MacInnis, Paul Coffey and Scott Stevens to Jeff Skinner and Gabriel Landeskog, the list of NHL stars to come from Kitchener is long.

44. Thunder Bay (Ontario)

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    Thunder Bay makes the list perhaps because of whatever is in the water as much as anything else.

    Not only is 2011 NHL All-Star Game MVP Patrick Sharp from Thunder Bay, but the Staal family still calls Thunder Bay home. Eric, Jordan, and Marc have all become solid NHL players from the area.

43. Faribault (Minnesota)

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    Faribault is the home of perhaps the most prestigious hockey-player-producing prep school in North America, Shattuck-Saint Mary's.

    Among the notable alumni are Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Drew Stafford, Zach Parise, Ryan Malone, Jack Johnson and Derek Stepan.

42. Portland (Oregon)

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    Portland is home to the Winterhawks of the WHL, which has produced players including Mark Messier, Marian Hossa and Cam Neely.

    But before the WHL landed in Portland, they had a long tradition of hockey being played in their city, and fans have always been a big part of the experience.

41. Duluth (Minnesota)

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    Home of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, which has been a powerhouse at the NCAA level for years, Duluth is a great hockey town in northern Minnesota.

    From Brett Hull to Dylan Olsen, UMD has produced some really good hockey players, and their fans continue to make it a desirable place to play.

40. Anchorage (Alaska)

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    Since 1995, the Alaska Aces have been playing ECHL-level hockey in Anchorage, and the fans have been great.

    They have won two Kelly Cups (ECHL championship), and Scott Gomez is their most notable alumnus.

39. Windsor (Ontario)

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    Windsor is a great hockey town, not only because of their proximity to other fantastic groups of fans, but also because their own Spitfires have been one of the best juniors teams of the last decade.

    From Adam Graves and Joel Quenneville to Jason Spezza and on to Adam Henrique, the Spitfires have been putting great players into the NHL for years.

38. Hershey (Pennsylvania)

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    The Hershey Bears have won three Calder Cups in the last decade and have carved out a niche as the third-best place to watch a hockey game in Pennsylvania.

    People come for the chocolate and stay for great hockey, and they have been treated to some really good players as well.

37. Grand Rapids (Michigan)

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    The Grand Rapids area is home of the Red Wings' AHL affiliate, the Griffins, as well as Western Michigan University.

    Both of those teams have a really good group of fans, and the extension of Hockeytown is felt all the way to Lake Michigan.

    The ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings aren't very far away, either.

37. Tampa Bay

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    Hockey in Florida is a tough sell, but having Steven Stamkos has put the Bolts on the front page more than you would assume.

    They won a lot of fans with their Cup win, and they have brought many back with the young stars they have today.

36. Dallas

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    The fans in Dallas have been good to the Stars over the years, but the pending bankruptcy of the organization has hurt both the product on the ice and the image projected to the community at large.

35. Troy (New York)

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    Troy, New York, is home of the little-known Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, or RPI.

    In spite of an undergraduate population of just over 5,000, Troy has hosted a couple NCAA champions and one of the longest winning streaks in college hockey history.

34. Raleigh (North Carolina)

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    The host of last year's All-Star Weekend certainly displayed their love for the game well, but the reality away from that experience is that Carolina suffers from a similar lack of natural love for the game that many Southern cities have experienced.

    With good young players like Skinner in town, there's a face for fans to cheer for once again.

33. Burlington (Vermont)

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    The University of Vermont might not be the first school you think of when considering college hockey hotbeds, but the Catamounts have produced players like Tim Thomas, Patrick Sharp and Martin St. Louis over the years.

    Like a few other universities on the list, they may benefit from limited options for fans, but Vermont has a great fan base.

32. San Jose (California)

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    The Sharks have a fun atmosphere for fans of any age, and there are some fans who have been there for the entire Doug Wilson Experience.

    They have certainly been treated to some fantastic hockey since the lockout.

31. Anaheim

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    The one-time Mighty Ducks have the defending Hart Trophy winner, but not many people seem to notice the Ducks outside of trade rumors and Olympic team rosters.

    The fans of the Ducks aren't quite as excited about their team as the Kings' fans just a few miles away.

30. South Bend

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    The University of Notre Dame is one of the most unique college sports atmosphere in the US, and their hockey program's success over the last few years has been bolstered by a strong hockey community on campus.

    The geographic rivalries with prominent schools in Michigan (and the football rivalries that already exist with those institutions) makes the Fighting Irish a fun team to watch play.

29. Orono (Maine)

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    The home of the University of Maine has a wonderful hockey tradition, including the man in this photo, Paul Kariya.

    Some fantastic players have played for Maine, and the hockey community is red-hot in the northernmost state.

28. Colorado Springs

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    Colorado Springs is the home of Colorado College, one of the great, passionate college hockey fanbases in the US.

    Their rivalry with U. of Denver is as good as any rivalry at any level, and there have been some fantastic pro players to come out of CC.

27. Columbus (Ohio)

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    While you might be surprised to see Columbus ranked this high, there are a couple factors to remember.

    First, the Blue Jackets are awful, but they're still drawing over 80 percent of their building's capacity, and the up-and-coming program at Ohio State (which has put players like Ryan Kesler into the NHL) is another attractive part of the hockey landscape.

26. East Lansing (Michigan)

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    The home of Michigan State's Spartans is a great sports town, and they have been part of some great college hockey games.

    Their rivalry with the University of Michigan is great theater, and their fans are always loud.

25. Los Angeles

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    There have been some great players to wear the Kings sweater through the years, from Dionne to Gretzky and now to Kopitar.

    It's hard to get a good grasp on any team's fans in LA because of the laid-back culture, but the Kings do a great job of filling the Staples Center on a regular basis.

24. Washington, D.C.

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    The Caps might have their issues on the ice these days, but the fans have been supportive over the last decade.

    You cannot ignore the draw of a superstar, and Alexander Ovechkin has been a great catalyst to bringing fans into the seats in DC.

23. Madison (Wisconsin)

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    The Wisconsin Badgers have put some great players into the NHL over the years, and have won a number of NCAA championships as well.

    Madison's a fantastic party town to start with, but their love for hockey makes it that much more fun.

22. Winnipeg

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    It's hard to put Winnipeg in an appropriate place on the list because there are so many factors both hurting and artificially inflating the hockey community these days.

    While they're selling out games and trying hard to get into the playoffs in their first season with an NHL franchise, we cannot ignore that the league took a team away from them as well.

21. Nashville

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    Nashville has quickly developed into one of the really nice hockey towns in the US.

    They've only been out of the first round of the playoffs once, but almost every game is sold out and their playoff atmosphere last year was electric.

20. Grand Forks (North Dakota)

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    Maybe it's because there just isn't a whole lot to do in Grand Forks, or maybe it's because guys like Ed Belfour, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews have played for the University of North Dakota, but there is a fantastic passion for hockey hidden in North Dakota.

19. Oxford (Ohio)

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    The home of Miami University has developed one of the more potent hockey cultures in college hockey.

    Miami has been competitive and their fans have been loyal for years, making it one of the best collegiate atmospheres in the States.

18. Newark

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    The Devils have provided the Newark, N.J.,area with some great hockey in the last 20 years, and the fans have loved the team for their efforts.

    They might not be as popular as the big dog in the New York-New Jersey area, but the Devils have a loyal following.

17. London (Ontario)

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    The London Knights have been a hotbed for NHL talent for years, and the fans supporting the juggernaut have been equally impressive.

    Since 2002, three Knights have been selected with the first overall pick in the NHL Draft: Rick Nash (2002), Patrick Kane (2007) and John Tavares (2009).

16. Edmonton

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    Edmonton was tested when The Great One was traded to the Kings, but even removing Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers roster couldn't take fans out of the seats.

    The community has supported their team through some rough financial situations and losing seasons, but the new group of youngsters might have them back in the hunt soon.

15. St. Louis

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    Since the NHL expanded, St. Louis has been a fantastic rival for the Blackhawks and Red Wings.

    Over the years, the fans have been treated to some of the great individuals in the history of the game, and they have stuck around even when ownership leaves faster than the stars.

14. Buffalo

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    Perhaps the proximity of Buffalo to the border with Canada makes the fans in Buffalo that much more competitive, but there have also been some great players to come out of the Buffalo area.

    Not only do the Sabres have a rich history, but their impact on a generation of young hockey players is evident as well.

13. Ottawa

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    The host of the 2012 All-Star Game and capital of Canada will get a chance to put their love for the game on display this coming weekend.

12. Calgary

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    The Flames play in one of the most unique stadiums in the league, and their fans have been supportive through some lean years.

    It says a lot about the quality of the hockey town that Calgary is that a player as competitive as Jarome Iginla would rather stay put than move to a contender.

11. Philadelphia

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    Between the Flyers and the Phantoms, Philadelphia has a lot of great hockey for fans of any age.

    And with the incredible, colorful history of the Broad Street Bullies, a case can be made that no team embodies the city of Philadelphia as well as the Flyers have over the years.

10. Pittsburgh

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    It's hard to imagine today that there was a time, not too long ago, that NHL hockey almost left Pittsburgh.

    But the leadership of Super Mario has saved the franchise more than once, and the impact of Sidney Crosby made the Pens an annual contender yet again.

    With a new home and financial stability, the great fans in Pittsburgh shouldn't worry about losing their team any time soon.

9. Vancouver

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    Vancouver loves their Canucks, and their burning passion was never more evident than during the Stanley Cup Finals this past spring.

    They're the most loyal fanbase west of the Rocky Mountains, and the pageantry at their games is great.

8. New York City

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    How can you deny the power of Original Six hockey at Madison Square Garden?

    The Rangers have been great this year, but their fans have been through a lot over the years.

    For all of the recognition that Yankees fans get, hockey fans in New York City are just as loyal.

7. Chicago

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    Chicago has embraced the rebirth of the Blackhawks over the last few years and has been the NHL leader in attendance for the past three years.

    But there is more to Chicago's hockey love than just the Hawks.

    The Wolves, the AHL affiliate of the Canucks, play just outside the city, as do the Express, the new ECHL affiliate of the Blue Jackets.

6. Denver

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    The popular misconception to outsiders is that the attendance at Avalanche games indicates that Denver doesn't care about hockey. You couldn't be more wrong.

    Denver University might be the more elusive ticket in town, and almost every bar in the city has hockey on every available television screen when any of the teams in town is playing.

5. Minneapolis-St. Paul

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    The State of Hockey was robbed of their game when the North Stars moved to Texas, but the return of the NHL in the form of the Wild is only part of the story.

    College hockey in Minnesota is huge, and the Golden Gophers continue to put quality players into the NHL.

4. Detroit-Ann Arbor

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    "Hockeytown" is home to one of the great Original Six franchises in the league, the Red Wings, who have been a standard for excellence since the late 1980s.

    But just up the road in Ann Arbor is the University of Michigan, which has produced some great NHL players and won a number of NCAA championships in the last two decades as well.

3. Montreal

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    Home of an Original Six franchise, the Canadiens, Montreal's fans are as passionate as any on the continent.

    The expectations for the Habs are that another dynasty will emerge at some point, and the pressure to produce that string of champions is enormous.

2. Boston

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    Boston is home to an Original Six franchise, the Bruins, but the city brings so much more to the table than just the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

    Boston College and Boston University are two of the better hockey schools in the US, and talented kids like Jeremy Roenick have made the jump from high school to the NHL almost overnight.

1. Toronto

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    Toronto is home to an Original Six franchise, the Maple Leafs, as well as their AHL affiliate, the Marlies.

    The difference between any of the top five cities/areas on this list is so small it's easy to make a case that one is better than another, but Toronto is the heartbeat of hockey in Canada.


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