Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament Is NHL Pipeline

Every state has something it’s known for and Minnesota is known for its deep hockey roots and traditions. One of those traditions is the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament which has been going on since 1945 and has seen many future NHLers go through its ranks.

The teams that make it to the tournament are essentially treated like hockey royalty and they get to play on the biggest stage in the state; the Xcel Energy Center. Since the Minnesota Wild’s season is in full swing when it happens, they get temporarily “kicked out” of their home arena and head on the road for the duration of the tournament which is four days.

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Even the Wild get involved with the tournament. While they were on the road recently they had the State Tournament on the television in their lockerroom and Wild players Alex Goligoski and Samuel Walker, both Minnesotans, discussed the tournament and what it’s like according to Michael Russo of The Athletic (from ‘Wild Insider: Russo and Smith on the Gus Bus, movie night with Flower, good guy Jon Merrill’, The Athletic, 3/14/23).

Sammy Walker, Minnesota Wild (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Wild don’t leave for just one weekend during this time of year, they actually go on the road for three consecutive weekends at the end of February into March because the girl’s hockey tournament, wrestling, and then the boy’s hockey tournament all happen over that time and the Xcel Energy Center is where they play.

Minnesota State Tournament Background

As stated above, the tournament started back in 1945 and back then it was just a one-tier tournament so fewer teams made it to State. That lasted until 1991 when they broke it into two tiers with larger schools in tier one and smaller schools in tier two. That remained for about two years until 1994 when they broke it into two classes; Class A and Class AA which is what we see today.

Related: Why Minnesota is Truly the State of Hockey

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Class A is smaller schools that house teams like Warroad, Hermantown, Alexandria, Luverne, and other small towns from across the state. Class AA is bigger schools like Eden Prairie, Moorhead, Duluth East, Edina, Minnetonka, and numerous others from around the state.

Similar to an NHL season, each team competes throughout the year to be the best of the best and qualify for the playoffs. The first round is called sections and if they make it out of that they head to the State Tournament where it’s single elimination all the way to Championship Saturday, as it’s nicknamed. This tournament is basically the high school version of the Stanley Cup to these players and it means everything to win it.

Minnesota State Tournament Participants in the NHL

What makes this tournament so unique is the talent level of the players who’ve participated over the years and how many have gone on to NHL careers. Former NHL players like Darby Hendrickson, Ryan Carter, Matt Cullen, Mark Parrish, and many more have all played in the State Tournament and some have even won it.

There are also a high number of current NHL players who played in the State Tournament like Nick Bjugstad, Samuel Walker, Blake Wheeler, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Nick Leddy, Derek Forbort, and T.J. Oshie, just to name a few. There may be one name missing on this list that is synonymous with Minnesota and that is Zach Parise.

Anders Lee New York Islanders
Anders Lee, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Parise never played in one because he went to Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School which is a prep school in Minnesota that plays above the high school level and doesn’t participate in the State Tournament. While Shattuck-St. Mary’s isn’t in the State Tournament it is one of the best hockey schools in the country, players like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Parise, Drew Stafford, and Jack Johnson have all played there.

Minnesota State Tournament Is Important

The Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament is one of the biggest hockey tournaments in the country and it showcases some of the best talents to ever come out of the state. It’s been stated many times that Minnesota leads the country with the most players in the NHL and this tournament shows why. Looking at all the names that have participated in it and gone on to play in the NHL is plain impressive.

According to QuantHockey, 19.4 percent of NHL players are from Minnesota, the most in the NHL and that is seven percent higher than second-place New York. All NHL players are talented but players from Minnesota have it in their blood. They know how to skate by the time they can walk and it’s just part of who they are. They grow up dreaming of winning the State Tournament and then going to college or juniors and then hopefully the NHL.

This year’s State Tournament was different than in years past as nearly every game played from the quarterfinals all the way to the Championship was close until the last few minutes. Normally the early games are blowouts as the top-ranked teams are paired against the bottom-ranked teams and that usually results in a one-sided game. This year, however, the rankings didn’t seem to matter as the teams were very closely matched and that made for some very entertaining games.

While another State Tournament has come and gone, fans got to witness some of the best Minnesota-born players play the game and some will be on their way to the NHL very soon. The names that may make it there in the future and fans should be on the lookout for are Warroad’s Jayson Shaugabuy, Cretin-Derham Hall’s Attila Lippai, Edina’s Jackson Nevers, Minnetonka’s Javon Moore, and Andover’s Gavyn Thoreson. While those names move on and the tournament is over, hopefully, next year’s is just as thrilling.