For a few years now, I've been intrigued by the hockey culture surrounding the state of Minnesota. I've been to Minnesota two memorable times in my nearly 22 years; both were in the last year. The first time was in January of this year. It's a bad idea to drive North on I-35 in January during a blizzard, but I had the opportunity to go to a Minnesota Wild game against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks at the Xcel Energy Center, so I was pretty motivated to get to the Twin Cities on time. The first thing I noticed at Xcel was the plethora of "State of Hockey" banners hanging from the ceiling. And it really seems to be the only state where hockey isn't just a hobby; rather, it's an expectation.
I've met quite a few people from Minnesota here at Notre Dame, and most of them did play hockey at one point or another in their lives. I can't name a single person I know from back home (Kansas) who ever tried hockey. Last year, when I interviewed Steven Fogarty, he said he played hockey growing up in Minnesota "because everyone played hockey," and he wasn't hyperbolizing. It's an interesting culture, and I've always been amazed by it.
The Notre Dame roster features eight members from Minnesota, and five of those eight went to Edina High School. The state with the second most players on the roster is Illinois with only four. That alone shows that there's something unique about the land of 10,000 lakes. Unsurprisingly, the University of Minnesota has a few--okay, a lot--more students and athletes from its own state. 22 of the 28 players (nearly 79%) on the Minnesota Golden Gophers roster are from the state. If football is a religion in the South, hockey is definitely a religion in the North.
Pictured above, counter-clockwise: Jordan Gross, Maple Grove; Mario Lucia, Plymouth; Bo Brauer, Connor Hurley, Dylan Malmquist, Steven Fogarty, and Ben Ostlie, Edina; Tony Bretzman, Mendota Heights
And that's why I'm always so eager for the series against Minnesota. When the Golden Gophers come into town, there's an unspoken sense of heightened excitement that invades campus. There's also that little family rivalry that everyone knows about (in case you didn't know--but you probably did--our own senior Mario Lucia plays his father, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, a 1981 Notre Dame graduate) that makes things more intense. More importantly, it's the fact that such a big portion of our own team have played with and against the members of the Minnesota team not only in college, but every year of pee-wee, junior and high school hockey leading up to these games. For one weekend, friends and family become frenemies and the oft-known overly warm, ambitiously sweet Minnesotans become ice cold and viciously competitive. It's a series that never fails to entertain.