The skates scrape the ice, the players crush their opponents against the glass, the sticks slap the puck, and, if all goes well, that little disc lodges its way home into the net. It’s hockey season, everyone. The best part? There are dozens of towns throughout North America that live and breathe hockey. Chosen for their connection to this iconic sport, either through deep history, unique attractions, loyal fans, contributions to the sport, or all the above, these places epitomize hockey in special ways. Here’s our list–in no particular order–of 22 North America hockey towns that will have you agreeing: Hockey is life.
When you talk about hockey legacy, you’re talking Detroit. The city’s team, the Detroit Red Wings, have the second-highest Stanley Cup Final appearances in the league. If you attend a playoff game, look out for flying octopi. It’s a tradition to hurl dead octopuses on the ice for good luck. And if you need to warm up after the game, know that there’s a bowl of hot chili calling your name at Cheli’s Chili Bar.
“This is one of the most exciting seasons for hockey in Detroit. The Red Wings are in the midst of their last season at the historic Joe Louis Arena and in 2017 will play at their brand new home Little Caesars Arena. With 11 Stanley Cup Championships, 25 consecutive appearances in the playoffs and roots that go back to the Original Six, it’s no wonder the city’s nickname is Hockeytown and our fans are so passionate about their team.” – Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau
San Jose, California
You might think that all Californians sport flip-flops instead of ice skates, but not in San Jose. This city is home to the San Jose Sharks. Known for their famous “shark bite” hand motions in the crowd, this arena is often packed to the gills with enthusiastic fans. The San Jose Barracuda, the minor league team, also plays here. And for those new to the sport, there’s Sharks Ice, which is the largest rink west of the Mississippi River and has its own sports bar (Stanley’s Sports Bar), where fledgling skaters can warm their bones with stiff drinks. There might be palm trees outside, but it’s still a heck of a hockey town.
Buffalo, New York
You can practically hear the stands rattling from here. Buffalo, New York, is home to the Sabres, and proud of it. But the town isn’t only interested in the NHL—they love the sport for all levels. That’s why Buffalo Bisons children league is beloved by the community, and why THE CUP (a tournament of AAA teams from the U.S. and Canada) is such a big event around here. And for those who love to watch hockey instead of play, there’s always the (716) Food and Sport bar, with big TVs and tons of grub.
Minneapolis – St.Paul, Minnesota
When your region is known for snow and ice, you better believe you know your way around a hockey puck. This is Minnesota Wild country, where the fans are loud and the game is played hard. But it’s not just the NHL that attracts fans. There’s a lot of love for the St. Paul Capitals, too. And when you need to celebrate a win, the crowds at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub are ready to toast.
Pittsburgh is all about street cred, and it more than earns it for hockey. In fact, Pittsburgh opened its first indoor ice rink in 1899, 13 years before Canada did. These days, Steel City is known for the dominant Pittsburg Penguins NHL team, as well as the Pittsburgh Vengeance Hockey team. Hungry after the game? Go to the Strip District, for local favourites like Primanti Brothers for an Almost Famous sandwich and Gaucho Parrilla Argentina for woodfired fare. And don’t leave town before heading to nearby Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum to peruse the city’s history of ice hockey and artifacts from the greatest players in Penguins’ history.
“Hockey has deep roots in Pittsburgh, a legendary and iconic sports city which is home to one of the most successful franchises in the league history. Pittsburgh Penguins fans in this sports-loving city are consistently named the best and most engaged fans in the nation.” … “The varied hockey offerings here score big, too. There’s enthusiasm for everything from youth and sled hockey, to men’s and women’s college teams, to Major League Roller Hockey and the National Hockey League. Pittsburghers love hockey!” – Jennifer Hawkins, Visit PITTSBURGH’s executive director of Sports Development
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Maybe there’s something in the water? At Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, you can learn why Thunder Bay (and the former cities of Fort William and Port Arthur) have produced the most NHL hockey players per capita of any other town or city in Canada. Over 90 NHL players have been born in Thunder Bay throughout the ages. There’s no question that there’s a love of the sport in these parts. The town is home to the Thunder Bay Kings, Thunder Bay North Stars Junior Hockey team, Lakehead University Thunderwolves (see them at Fort William Gardens, where you can view the many championship banners hanging from the rafters), and Thunder Bay Women’s Hockey League. Sharpen those skates. This place means business.
“Thunder Bay has a long-standing reputation as a hockey town that continues today. Thunder Bay is known as the home of the Staal brothers, who all are playing or have played in the National Hockey League. When you add in two cup wins by Patrick Sharp with the Chicago Blackhawks and Matt Murray, goaltender for the 2016 Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the famous silver trophy has Thunder Bay-born players on it five of the last 10 years. In fact, there are many Thunder Bay players listed on the Cup over the years.” – John Cameron, Tourism Development Officer, City of Thunder Bay
We could tell you that Edmonton is a true-blue hockey town, but you probably already know that. This is NHL Edmonton Oilers country, and hockey is everywhere you look. Aside from the Oilers, there’s the Knights of Columbus, Edmonton Oil Kings, and the University of Alberta Golden Bears, which have had more University Cup appearances and wins than any other school. Looking for a place to pop some champagne after a winning game? Central Social Hall knows how to celebrate in style.
“Edmonton Minor Hockey Week is one of the largest and longest running hockey tournaments in the world (53 years!). Edmonton hosted the inaugural Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in 2003, the first outdoor regular season game in NHL history. And the World’s Longest Hockey Game was played in Edmonton in February 2015, breaking a Guinness World Record and raising more than $800,000 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Forty players took to the ice and played ten straight days of hockey.” – Meredith McLennan, Travel Media Specialist, Edmonton Tourism
Windsor, Nova Scotia
It’s been called “the birthplace of hockey” (though you don’t have to read much further to know this is a hot-button issue in this country), as the first written reference of the sport recounts a game of hurley on a frozen pond in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Today, the town is still proud of its history, as showcased at the Hockey Heritage Museum. And if you want to see how the game is played right, make your travel plans around the Long Pond Heritage Hockey Classic, where hockey history meets hockey present. Head to the Hants County Arena to show your support for the Valley Maple Leafs and get in the local spirit.
“…It’s as close to hockey heaven as you can get.” – Retired NHL right winger Rich Sutter, from centre pond during the 2016 Long Pond Heritage Classic.
“Canada’s favourite sport got its start more than 200 years ago when boys from King’s Edgehill School strapped blades to the bottoms of their winter boots and played “hurley” on Long Pond. Windsor is a destination for hockey fans of all ages.” – Windsor Mayor Anna Allen
Here’s something impressive to mention at your next dinner party: Saskatchewan has produced more NHL players per capita than any other Canadian province. Saskatoon was even the home of “Mr. Hockey” himself, Gordie Howe. See future stars when you attend Saskatoon Blades games, or when you’re cruising around the Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink.
There’s a ton of hockey pride in Kingston, Ontario. Before leading the country to four Olympic Gold medals and 7 World Championship Gold medals for hockey, Jayna Hefford cut her skates in Kingston. The town maintains 16 outdoor rinks in the winter, and when Lake Ontario and surrounding lakes freeze over, you have more than ample opportunity to practice some of Hefford’s moves. Also, just take one look in the Original Hockey Hall of Fame, which displays sticks and jerseys of the some of the best players of all time. This town is also home to the Kingston Frontenacs that play at the Rogers K Rock Centre. And if the game runs late, not to fret. The Mansion has a late-night menu.
“Kingston is the birthplace of hockey, and don’t let any other destination tell you otherwise. The oldest hockey rivalry in the world dates back to March 10, 1886 when the inaugural game was played between the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, both institutions call Kingston home.” – Brandon Pickard, Sport Tourism Development Officer, Tourism Kingston
Plaster Rock, New Brunswick
If you think that pond hockey is cute and whimsical, prepare to have your mind blown in Plaster Rock. This town in New Brunswick puts on the World Pond Hockey Championship each winter that brings together teams from around the world. How big is this event exactly? There are over 120 teams in total, representing every province, 35 U.S. states, and 15 countries. Register early if you want in.
Vancouver, British Columbia
The Vancouver Canucks are a force to be reckoned with, and the fans are happy to cheer them on—both in the arena and out. A simple walk through downtown Vancouver will take you to overflowing bars, filled with loyal fans dressed in blue and green. However, the Canucks aren’t the only team in town bringing on the cheers. There’s the Vancouver Giants team, as well as your future superstars practicing on Grouse Mountain Ice Skating Pond. And hey, even if your team loses, there’s always the Score on Davie ready with a pint and round of nachos to cheer you up.
Sherbrooke may look like a nice, quaint town, but there’s a fierce sense of competition in this pretty city. Nearly 20 NHL players have been born here and have gone on to greatness in their right. If you want to see what the current crop of stars looks like, just go down to a Sherbrooke Phoenix game and prepare to be impressed.
Penticton, British Columbia
Prepare to hear a lot more about Penticton, British Columbia, in 2017. This town is playing host to the 2017 Western Canada Cup in late April through early May. Taking place at the South Okanagan Events Centre, the 13-game tournament pits the best junior “A” teams against each other for sweet, sweet glory. Be sure to look out for Penticton Vees, the local club. And if you’re wondering why this town has so many great players, look to one of Okanagan Hockey Group’s world-renowned summer hockey camps that have been in operation since 1963 or the Okanagan Hockey Academy. This centre taught the great Mark MacMillan.
“Whether you are a hockey player or a fan, Penticton is hard to beat. Whether it’s exciting Junior A hockey with the Penticton Vees, world class summer hockey camps with Okanagan Hockey Group, watching future NHL stars at the annual Canuck Young Stars tournament, or just a visit to the BC Hockey Hall of Fame, Penticton has something for every hockey family.” – Blair Noel, Vice President, Okanagan Hockey Group
Ready to bring it back to the grit of the old-school hockey days? Then make your way to Gravenhurst, Ontario, for the Original Pond Hockey Classic. Playing host to teams throughout North America, this tournament puts pride on the line. And if you’d rather watch hockey from the stands, the South Muskoka Shield team (which plays at the Centennial Centre) puts on quite the show. When you’re ready to unwind from the game, Frosty Pint Pub has a stool with your name on it.
“The South Muskoka Shield is one of only two teams in the GMHL that has sent a player all the way to the NHL. Each year we host the North American Pond Hockey Championships on the ice right on Lake Muskoka at the Muskoka Wharf. Close to 200 teams participate each year.” – Gravenhurst Communications and Marketing
North Cowichan and Duncan, British Columbia
Talk about bragging rights. The District of North Cowichan is where you’ll find the world’s largest hockey stick. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that this area is hockey-crazed. You can see this passion in action when you attend a Cowichan Capitals game or make a stop at the Red Arrow Brew Pub. And while you can’t buy the largest hockey stick, you can buy some memorabilia at Eddy’s Hockey Shop.
Kirkland Lake, Ontario
Kirkland Lake may be a small town, but its players changed the face of hockey forever. Greats like Dick Duff, Ralph Backstrom, and Mickey Redmond are all from these parts. And that tradition isn’t ending any time soon. The KL Goldminers is filled with young talent, ready to take on the world. If you want to see even more skills on display, come to Kirkland Lake for the Winter Carnival, which hosts the Rotary Winter Carnival Classic Hockey Tournament.
Owen Sound, Ontario
Tiny but mighty might very well be the motto of Owen Sound, Ontario. This small hockey town is big on pride when it comes to the Owen Sound Attack. It might be the smallest market team in the Canadian Hockey League, but it has the largest percentage of the population attending home games at over 11-percent. Needless to say, this town lives and breathes hockey.
“Owen Sound has a long history associated with hockey. Our community is blessed with a long winter, cold temperatures, and open water, so most of our residents grew up with skates and sticks. We are proud of our legendary Owen Sound Attack OHL team with their passionate fan base, and were honoured to be selected as the Rogers Hometown Hockey site in 2015.” – City of Owen Sound
“Owen Sound is very pleased to be acknowledged as one of the must-visit hockey towns in North America. We have produced many notable hockey personalities, we have outdoor and indoor rinks, excellent hockey and skating facilities, and even the Georgian Bay harbour offers a unique outdoor shinny experience when it freezes over.” – Mayor Ian Boddy
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Are you sure you’re ready to watch the Prince Albert Raiders play? This rough-and-tumble team plays with an unbeatable passion. Find a great seat at the Art Hauser Centre where they skate and watch the goals slot in. Prince Albert is also home to the PA Mintos, which won the 2014 Telus Cup, and the Kinsmen Arena, where you can learn how to slap a puck yourself. And not to worry if you fall too many times. A good brew at JT’s Pub will make those bruises feel like badges of honour.
“The sport of hockey forms an integral part of the community spirit in Prince Albert. With a population of 35,000 people, Prince Albert boasts one of the highest ratios of arenas per capita in Canada. Prince Albert is home to 3 artificial ice arenas, 4 indoor natural ice arenas and 10 outdoor ice rinks. Hockey in Prince Albert provides an opportunity for all ages to participate and serves as one of Prince Albert’s main tourism destination attractions.” – Jody Boulet, Director of Community Services, City of Prince Albert
If you notice that all your neighbors are missing between January 27th through 29th, they’re probably in Huntsville, playing at the Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships. Now in its 11th year, this championship—which is taking place at the Pinestone Resort—brings together around 1,500 players from all over the country. But Huntsville crowds don’t stop cheering once January is over. They also support the Huntsville Otters team, as well as the Girls Hockey Association.
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Given that it’s a university town, perhaps it’s no surprise that Antigonish is a huge hockey town. Home to St. Francis Xavier University Hockey, you can count on full stands each home game. Enthusiasm isn’t regulated to the university, however. There’s also the Antigonish Bulldogs, which play at the Antognish Arena, and bring the heat each match. And for the young ones, there’s the Highland Edge Hockey Academy, which specializes in teaching power skating, puck control, and shooting.
Flin Flon, Manitoba
It’s where Bobby Clarke got his start and where over a dozen other NHL players have hailed from. We’re talking about Flin Flon, of course. This mining town knows a thing or do about hard work, and they put that same determination to the ice. The Flin Flon Bombers put everything they’ve got to every game and come up with big wins that rattle their opponents.
“People in Flin Flon take a lot of pride in being from such a historic hockey town, it’s part of our culture. Bomber games are the highlight of the weekend where fans throw a moose leg on the ice after a big win for the players to gather around and salute the fans. The Whitney Forum is like no other junior A rink; it oozes with hockey history and you can’t help but be excited to play or watch a game at the legendary arena.” – Mike Reagan, Coach/GM Flin Flon Bombers, Canada West Assistant Coach
Hockey towns come in all shapes and sizes, but make no mistake, even the smallest communities can bring the loudest plays and booming stands. Bring your jersey with you and prepare to cheer when you’re in any of these top hockey cities.
INSIDE EDGE HOCKEY NEWS – GUEST WRITER
Jennifer Cuellar is a writer, an avid explorer, and fan of all things Games of Thrones-related. When she’s not sipping tea in a café by the beach, she’s off writing about wondrous cities you simply have to visit. From mountain peaks to downtown streets, there’s a world of adventure waiting to be explored. She spotlights top cities to tour, which attractions you’ve got to see, and off-the-beaten path activities to try during your next vacation. Let’s go travel!