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Edina, Minn. & Twin Cities Area Shaping Penn State Men’s Hockey

Edina, Minnesota is about 10 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Like any wealthy suburb, it has shopping centers, country clubs, and good schools.

But Edina holds one title that no other city in the United States carries: “The center of the hockey universe,” according to ESPN.

While the entire Twin Cities market is known for its hockey prowess and Minneapolis–St. Paul was named the No. 1 center of the hockey universe in the United States, Edina stands out from the crowd mostly due to its 13 Minnesota Tier 1 boys’ state hockey championship wins and production of college hockey players. 

Since 2012, Penn State men’s hockey has had four players from the Minneapolis suburbs, and one player from Edina, go through its program. To them, it’s not surprising that Edina and the Twin Cities were given this title by ESPN. 

“Just the entire state in general honestly, I think. The northern part of the state is extremely really rich in hockey too, you got Moorhead and Roseau and Warroad, a lot of big names come out of there as well,” former Penn State hockey center Eric Scheid said. “I think it’s just the state as a whole, but with that, obviously the Twin Cities being a more central focus and a lot more people – it gets quite a bit of hype and a lot of good players come out of there. I would say always been that way, still that way, and a lot of that has to do with the youth systems and the high school and the state tournaments.”

Senior defenseman Clayton Phillips, who is the only Penn State player from Edina, said his hometown revolves around the game of hockey.

“I think it makes it kind of special,” Phillips said. “I think it’s also kind of one of those [things] where it’s all you really know. It’s pretty common to play hockey there.”

Having played in front of packed or near-packed arenas in high school made the transition to playing in the “intense” environment of Pegula easier, Phillips said.

“I think the fanbase here is second to none, obviously it’s an absolute treat playing in front of the Roar Zone and you just don’t really get that anywhere else,” Phillips said. “I would say it’s probably just as intense, if not maybe a little bit more intense. It’s kind of hard to compare the high school atmosphere with college, but I think it’s a pretty damn special place to play.”

One thing that they, and current Penn State senior defenseman Alex Stevens, attribute to Edina and the Twin Cities area being a hockey hotbed is the environment around hockey in the state as a whole, as well as the stellar reputation of Edina High School’s hockey program.

Outdoor rinks in the Twin Cities area in the winter are incredibly popular, and the youth and high school programs are unparalleled throughout the Minneapolis–St. Paul area. 

“Who knows how it really all got to be this way, but the state tournament is the backbone behind it all,” Scheid said. “It’s held at the Xcel Energy Center, which is where the Minnesota Wild play, it’s sold out arenas. So when you’re a little kid growing up – I remember myself, every single year Thursday would be the first quarterfinal round and there’d be games all day, and every single year my dad would pull me and my brothers out of school and we’d go watch all the games. Spend the whole day watching, and that was just something that you grew up doing. You always watched the state tournament, it was the biggest event in the state, and for that reason, you just always grew up dreaming to play in it.

“You look at other states in the midwest like Iowa, Nebraska, places like that – they don’t have that kind of atmosphere. So everybody leaves and goes and plays midgets or juniors somewhere else,” Scheid said. “But, whereas [in] Minnesota, you grow up watching the state tournament, all you want to do is play in it. So you spend an entire career in high school at home playing with your buddies that you grew up with and kind of going after that goal and that dream.”

For Stevens, playing in the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament is still one of the most memorable moments of his hockey career. Attendance at the tournament is strong, and it’s one of the most-attended and viewed state sports tournament in the United States. 

“Just being from Minnesota and you’re playing where the (Minnesota) Wild play…you’re playing in front of 18,000 people – that’s just the pinnacle of Minnesota,” Stevens said. 

Phillips, Scheid, and Stevens agree that in Minnesota, the ability to play with the same group of people for much of your youth career is somewhat unique to the state. While many hockey players leave their hometowns to go play hockey elsewhere in high school, Minnesotans, especially those in the Twin Cities area, have the luxury of playing in top tier programs and high schools close to home. 

During the summers, Stevens and Phillips train with the same group of people that they’ve known since childhood. Ben Copeland, a forward at Colorado College, was on many of the same teams as Phillips as a child and they both played high school hockey at Edina. Growing up in a hockey town created a close knit community where hockey players knew each other, Copeland said. 

“My dad played at Edina growing up, so I kind of followed in his footsteps…he won [the] state championship at Edina. It’s been always a great hockey community,” Copeland said. 

It’s not uncommon for college scouts to be present at high school games, Stevens said. He felt the exposure he received from playing for Wayzata High School was one of the reasons he came to Penn State. 

“I’d honestly say it gave [me] the opportunity to be [at Penn State], almost. Just growing up in a state where hockey’s so known and giving us the opportunity to be on the ice all the time and play against all these really good players,” Stevens said.

The reputation of the Twin Cities area and the success of high school hockey there draws many families that have children who are passionate about hockey. The level of continual achievement of high schools in Blaine, Edina, Eden Prairie, and Minnetonka in hockey as well as a good education drives many families to relocate. 

Growing up in Coon Rapids, Scheid was supposed to have played high school hockey at Coon Rapids High School, where his older brother played. But, having a father who taught at an elementary school in Blaine and knowing the reputation of Blaine High School, Scheid applied to go to high school in Blaine and play high school hockey there. 

“For myself personally, I know my friends and when I was in high school, we took it very serious,” Scheid said. “Where some other surrounding cities that just didn’t have the programs couldn’t compete, they didn’t quite have the same attitude towards it.”

While not all high school hockey programs in Minnesota are as good as those in the Twin Cities area, there are a plethora of private hockey academies throughout Minnesota that allow those out of state or in areas of the state with weaker programs, to play against skilled players and get noticed by scouts. Possibly the most recognizable Minnesota private high school in relation to hockey is Shattuck-St. Mary’s. 

Since leaving Minnesota to play hockey at the college level, or in Scheid’s case return to the area for a non-hockey related career, the ability to grow up in the Twin Cities area and be immersed in its hockey culture is something that the players believe made them well-equipped to play college hockey.

“Edina got me kind of on the map with recruiting and colleges,” Copeland said. “Going to the Waterloo Blackhawks to play in the USHL was obviously super cool as well, and I got the opportunity to play there after my junior season at Edina. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to jump to the next level after high school and now I’m here at Colorado College and I love it.”

Having retired from hockey, Scheid looks back on his career’s start in the Twin Cities as pivotal. 

“I would say it was really everything, honestly. You look at the other areas where people have to go play, travel for midgets or leave for juniors, that absolutely consumes your entire life. It can kind of burn kids out in a way, I think. Whereas the Twin Cities, we’re extremely driven, focused on hockey, but at the same time it’s only five, six months of the year sport,” Scheid said.

“I would say living in the Twin Cities, being able to have the level of competition every single time I step onto the ice to improve was huge,” he continued. “But also, being able to walk away from the rink and get out and do different things and shape myself as an athlete in other ways was also just as important.”

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About the Author

Acacia Aster Broder

Acacia is a junior from Philadelphia majoring in digital and print journalism with a sports certificate. Although she considers herself a Philadelphian at heart, she is a Toronto and Seattle sports fan. Follow her on Twitter @acaciaaster or Instagram @acaciaastr for hockey takes and mediocre analysis.

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