Exactly one Arizona-born hockey player has made it out of the desert and into the NHL - Jim Brown. Brown was a hulking 6'4" 210 pound defenseman who played his developmental hockey in upstate New York. He attended Notre Dame to play hockey and after his freshman year with the Fighting Irish, he was selected in the 5th round (#92 overall) by the Los Angeles Kings in 1979. He finished his four years at Notre Dame and the Kings sent him to New Haven in the AHL. He earned a call up to Los Angeles for three games during the 1982-1983 season, where he picked up an assist, five penalty minutes and was a -2. He was sent back to New Haven, played 39 games in 1983-1984, then retired from hockey at the age of 24. He might be alone for awhile longer.
California hockey is producing first round draft choices and growing numbers of kids in the NCAA and Juniors. Florida Hockey is breaking out, as the number of Florida-born players drafted into the NHL is slowly growing. But Arizona lags behind them both and the gap isn't trivial. Part of the gap can be attributed to chronology. Professional hockey in California had a twenty-five year head start and Florida had a three-year head start. The gap isn't limited simply to players being produced in the state -- right now there are only eight ice rinks in the state of Arizona compared to twenty-one in Florida. And while hockey in the Southern U.S. is as much about roller hockey and training as it is about ice time - Arizona programs lack the facilities necessary to become a hockey hotbed.
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Even with these limitations, programs like the Arizona Amateur Hockey Association, Arizona Heat, Arizona Hockey Union, Arizona Runners, Flagstaff Northstars, Mission AZ Ice, Phoenix Firebirds, Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, Phoenix Mustangs,and the Phoenix Polar Bears are turning out players with enough talent to play NCAA and CHL hockey. Eighteen Arizonans are currently playing NCAA and Major Junior-level hockey.
|Andrew Hamburg||Forward||Colorado College||NCAA||Phoenix|
|Colten St. Clair
|Kyle Beattie||Forward||University of Maine||NCAA||Avondale|
|Kyle Verdino||Forward||Swift Current||WHL||Phoenix|
|Luke Moffatt||Forward||Michigan||NCAA||Paradise Valley|
|Max Mobley||Forward||St. Lawrence University||NCAA||Glendale|
|Zac Larraza||Left Wing||USNatl||USHL||Scottsdale|
|Aaron Ave||Defense||Omaha Lancers||USHL||Chandler|
|Ben Oskroba||Defense||Lincoln Stars||USHL||Tempe|
|Jordan Young||Defense||Youngstown Phantoms||USHL||Cave Creek|
|Philip Samuelsson||Defense||Boston College||NCAA||Scottsdale|
|Richard Coyne||Defense||Lincoln Stars||USHL||Cave Creek|
|Matthew Federico||Goaltender||Western Michigan||NCAA||Scottsdale|
Philip Samuelsson, Ulf's son, wasn't born in Arizona, but played his developmental hockey in Scottsdale. While Samuelsson is a likely bet to make the NHL, he was drafted in the second round (#61 overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was born in Leksand, Sweden. Luke Moffatt was drafted in the seventh round (#197 overall) by the Colorado Avalanche and is matriculating at the University of Michigan. The second true Arizona-born player to make the NHL might be Denver University recruit Zac Larraza, currently playing for the U.S. National Development Program. Larraza was not ranked in the USHL top 25 by NHL Central Scouting in the November rankings, but is considered a prospect of interest and has the potential to develop into an NHL player while attending Denver.
Arizona Youth Hockey may not have the same momentum as Florida Youth Hockey, but the sport continues to grow. Sustained success by the Coyotes would go a long way towards bringing attention and popularity to the sport and deepening the talent pool.