ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- While the Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team fell one game short of bringing another NCAA title to Minnesota in March, the overall state of hockey for girls and women in the state has never been stronger.
That’s the clearly-drawn conclusion when one looks at the overall participation numbers, and at the number of elite players that Minnesota is sending to USA Hockey’s top development camps, which are designed to identify and grow the nation’s future college, professional and Olympic players.
Of the 50 players recently named to the initial roster for the Girls U18 Select Development Camp, 18 are from Minnesota. That camp will be held July 15-21 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Another 22 Minnesota players were named to the roster for the Girls 16/17 Player Development Camp, which will be held June 25-July 1, also in St. Cloud. Minnesota Hockey officials said that they expect some roster movement between the two camps.
The Minnesotans on the U18 roster include both goalies -- Alex Pellicci of Holy Family and Skylar Vetter of Lakeville North. There will be 20 additional players picked for the U18 camp, and Minnesota Hockey officials expect that four or five more Minnesotans will be in that group of 20.
Vetter is one of six future Gophers on the preliminary roster, and while he cannot comment about individual players under NCAA rules, Gophers coach Brad Frost has widely acknowledged that he and other college coaches in the state benefit greatly from the wealth of talent coming from Minnesota.
“Minnesota will continue to represent well on the national stage with these talented players,” said Frost. On his NCAA runner-up roster from last season, 21 of 26 Gophers played prep hockey in Minnesota.
It’s worth noting that the 18 Minnesotans on the initial camp roster actually is significantly fewer than in past years. Minnesota Hockey officials recall a relatively recent USA Hockey development camp roster where 36 of the 66 players were from Minnesota. But the more modest numbers reflect both the growth of high-level girls and women's hockey in other parts of the country, and an effort by USA Hockey to provide more geographic balance on the rosters.
Still, at the youth levels, girls hockey participation in Minnesota leads the nation, and is growing at a rapid rate. A favorite statistic shared by Derek Rickie, Minnesota Hockey’s marketing and communications manager, is that 2% of all females in the United States live in Minnesota, but 17% of the nation’s female hockey players are Minnesotans.
They measure girls hockey growth by looking at the 8-and-under level, when players are getting their start in the sport. For the 2017-18 season, which is the most recent where numbers are available, Minnesota had 4,809 U8 players registered, which was a record for the fourth consecutive year, and leads the nation.
On the 40 NCAA Division I women’s college hockey rosters last season, there were 157 Minnesotans, which led the country by a considerable margin. Massachusetts was second with 106.
“We’re doing all the right things in Minnesota and I think it speaks for itself at the Division I level and the Division III level across the country. In women’s hockey, we’re leading in every category,” said Mike MacMillan, who wears many hats in the hockey world, running Minnesota Hockey’s High Performance programs while serving as coach-in-chief for USA Hockey and an assistant men’s hockey coach at Hamline University in St. Paul. “I think that will continue because we keep adding to the numbers, plus we keep doing a better job developmentally.”