With the Minnesota Wild out of playoff contention, who should fans in the State of Hockey root for when Round 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starts this week? We are left with the Colorado Avalanche vs. the Edmonton Oilers in the West and the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. the New York Rangers in the East.
Since the St. Louis Blues booted the Wild in the first round, there’s been plenty of great hockey to watch, but no clear favorite for teams Minnesota fans can get behind. My solution is to find the roster from the remaining teams with the most Minnesota connections. What team has the most players from the State of Hockey, or guys who skated for a Minnesota college team or previously played for the Wild? Minnesota produces the most professional hockey players in the US, and it’s always easy to cheer for the guys from your home state.
Let’s start with Tampa. Their roster is loaded with Canadians, and they only have four American players. That does include St. Paul’s Ryan McDonagh, though. A former Mr. Hockey from Cretin-Derham Hall, McDonagh went across the border and played three years of NCAA hockey for the Badgers (boo). McDonagh is the sole Minnesota representative on Tampa’s roster, and he’s already brought the Stanley Cup back home twice. Maybe it’s time for another Minnesotan to bring the Cup back home.
Tampa will be facing off against the New York Rangers, who have a trio of Minnesotans on the blue line. At the trade deadline, they acquired Justin Braun, 34, from the Philadelphia Flyers. The former White Bear High defenseman has been in the league since 2010 and spent most of his career with the San Jose Sharks.
Ryan Lindgren grew up in Burnsville. He played two seasons for the Gophers and became a fan favorite because of his massive hits. Lindgren is a tough customer and will not hesitate to throw around his body when he needs to. His hits are bruising, and this one against Michigan is one of the best hits I’ve seen in college hockey.
K'Andre Miller played at Minnetonka and ventured across the border, spending two seasons in the Badgers' white and red. Miller was the 22nd overall pick in 2018 and is part of New York’s young defensive core. He's been good, too, as the league put him on the NHL All-Rookie team in 2021. Forward Jonny Brodzinski is also on the New York roster, but he has only played one game in this year’s playoffs. He played at Blaine and St. Cloud State.
With so many Minnesotans, New York is the front runner for Wild fans to root for.
On the Western Conference side, we have the Colorado Avalanche, which has three players with Minnesota connections. The Wild traded Nico Sturm to the Avs for Tyson Jost. Sturm was a solid fourth-line center for the Wild and has been decent in his bottom-six role for Colorado.
Old friend Darcy Kuemper is Colorado’s starting goaltender. He played his first five seasons in Minnesota. Goalies are always easy to cheer for, so even though the Avalanche are arguably the Wild’s biggest rival, I think most fans from Minnesota would love to see Kuemper win the Cup.
The Avs also have Bloomington’s Erik Johnson, a former first overall pick. He played at Holy Angels and for the Gophers and has been a solid part of Colorado’s defense for nearly 12 years. Johnson is the first Gopher and Minnesotan to be selected first overall in the NHL draft, so it would be pretty awesome to see him lift Lord Stanley. Maybe cheering for the Avs is a step too far for you, though.
The Edmonton Oilers don’t have any players with Minnesota connections on their team. No Minnesotans, no Gophers, and no former Wild players. Nothing. However, they have the most entertaining hockey player on the planet in Connor McDavid. He and Leon Draisaitl lead the league with 26 postseason points, and the Oilers have played two exciting playoff rounds so far.
So if you’re struggling to find the right team to cheer for, as a Minnesotan and someone who wants to root for the team with the most players from here, the New York Rangers are probably the way to go. Colorado is close behind, with two former Wild players and one Minnesotan. Tampa only has one Minnesotan, and Edmonton has none.
For me, it’s an easy choice with who to root for. A Colorado and New York matchup in the Finals would be very fun for Minnesotans to watch and offer the most players to root for. But if you, the Minnesota hockey fan, don’t necessarily need local connections to root for a team, why not get on the Oilers bandwagon? Edmonton has the best hockey player in the world in Connor McDavid, and he’s been a beast in the playoffs so far. It would be fun to see the Oilers finally dethrone the dynasty that Tampa has going and possibly start a new reign in Edmonton.
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