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Literal Hockey Hotbeds

Tuesday, 07.13.2010 / 9:12 PM CT / Minnesota Wild | Features
By Dan Myers  - Special to
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Literal Hockey Hotbeds

In recent decades, the National Hockey League has moved into non-traditional hockey markets like Tampa, Dallas and Phoenix.

Now, 17 years after the North Stars left the State of Hockey to move to Texas, the league is finally seeing more players develop from those same markets.

For evidence of that, look no further than the Xcel Energy Center this week and the Wild's Development Camp, where three players from Minnesota are taking part. That's the same number of prospects in St. Paul as those from California.

There's also one player apiece from other non-traditional hockey breeding grounds like Arizona, Indiana and Washington state.

In places like Southern California and Arizona, the introduction of National Hockey League franchises has helped spur growth at the youth levels.

"Thanks to the Coyotes and when Wayne Gretzky came in, hockey in Scottsdale and in all of Arizona has actually gotten a lot bigger," said forward J.T. Barnett. "It's a good place for hockey to blow up. A lot of the NHL guys, when they retire, move to the area and help coach their kids."

Barnett admitted hockey is growing, but still in its infancy in terms of popularity with kids in Arizona.

"Even me, a lot of my friends still play baseball," he said. "But now, there are a lot of really good younger teams from all around the Phoenix area."

Jason Zucker was drafted in the second round in last month's Entry Draft, 59th overall. Born in Newport Beach, Calif. and raised in Las Vegas, Zucker became the first Nevada-raised player to ever be drafted. He said the game is growing in those areas as well.

"Its really grown a lot," Zucker said. "California is growing organizations left and right and forming new ones every year. They're getting bigger every year and bringing out more talent."

Having three NHL teams in California certainly has helped grow the game there, but Zucker says hockey is even becoming more popular in Sin City, where maintaining ice this time of year can be a challenge -- with daytime highs consistently surpassing 100 degrees.

"They're seeing the ways the people from these other markets are training," Zucker said. "They're picking that up and producing some pretty good players as well."

Wild 2009 draft pick Anthony Hamburg has been all over the country, seeing and playing in many traditional and nontraditional markets. Born in Houston, Hamburg has also lived in Phoenix, California, Dallas and Denver.

His mom graduated from of the University of Denver, a collegiate hockey powerhouse. That's where his start in hockey began.

"Me and my brothers started skating because my mom went to DU," Hamburg said. "We picked it up from there. My brother went to [Colorado College], so now we have a bit of an intra-family rivalry."

No matter how they've gotten their start, Barnett, Zucker and Hamburg all agreed it was the infusion of NHL teams that has helped grow the game in the communities they grew up in. It's that growth that has helped get them to where they are today.

"The guys now don't have to travel as much now," Hamburg said. "The league where I came from expanded into a 40-team league, so guys can stay a little closer to home and still get great exposure.

And those teams in Dallas and Phoenix -- they're just going to keep getting stronger and stronger."
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