John Russo

Interesting topics from around the hockey world

By John Russo

Let’s Play Hockey Columnist

I haven’t taken the time this year to look at some current topics that face our game, so for the next couple of weeks, I will “spout” a little – from my viewpoint.


Minnesota Wild

As you are all very aware, I was very down on the Minnesota Wild a couple of years ago because they had none or occasionally one American player on their roster. They hired a (well-qualified) American coach, but have no – to negative – headway on the player front.

The Wild still have zero Americans on the roster. They drafted a Minnesota youngster last year then traded him away in February. They have made five or six big player trades since the new GM and coaches have taken over, but haven’t included any American player additions – only one deduction.

As a reminder, the Wild remain the only team with zero Americans. Actually, I only checked about half of the teams, but found the following:


Calgary      3

Dallas        3

Detroit       4

Edmonton  2

• NY Rangers          4

• NY Islanders         5

Montreal     3

New Jersey 6

Philadelphia 3

Pittsburgh  6

San Jose    4

St. Louis    7

Vancouver  1


There have been numerous Americans traded over the past years or so, but the Wild are choosing to not roster Americans. It is not possible that over the decade or so that they have been filling the St. Paul building that says “State of Hockey” on it in big letters – they have not been able to find one good (enough) American, much less a Minnesotan.

Come on, “new” ownership and “new” management, the time has come to make a commitment. The fans will love you for it. You may be able to move up from the annual fight to make the playoffs. Give it a try – what the heck!


Glen Sonmor – Now New York Rangers Ambassador

Glen Sonmor is a hockey ambassador in Minnesota who is appreciated by all that understand the game. He worked for the Minnesota North Stars and then the Minnesota Wild until recently when the new management decided to let him go – to the New York Rangers. 

What a shame, Minnesota Wild. He has done more good for youth, college and pro hockey in Minnesota over the years than most anybody. He has been an important mentor to hockey and non-hockey folks with addiction problems (he is a recovering alcoholic himself). He has felt and feels that he must help do the good work that John Mariucci did before he died. Glen has the passion for the game (and for Minnesota) of a 20-year-old. I hope the Wild can rediscover him and get their colors back on this great hockey man.


The Olympics

I hope the USA performance in the Olympics will have a lasting impact — on the sport in this country and on the attitude that has existed in Canada about U.S. hockey. If you listened to the NHL announcers, you would have guessed that Team USA was a long shot to get into the semis – and were ranked around fifth to seventh.

With around 20 percent Americans in the NHL, compared to roughly 50 percent Canadians, the USA is easily the second largest group. There are no reasons to believe that we shouldn’t be “in the hunt” every year. In addition, I believe our U17, U18 and National Junior teams were all world champions this year. What a great future. 

There should be a great influx of U.S. players into the NHL in the next few years from these U17, U18 and Junior teams.

Canada still has the most good players coming up and will likely continue to dominate the NHL numbers for some time. We are on our way upwards, however. We need to use the successes for all of our teams to continue to increase and improve hockey in the USA.

I’m certain that the Canadian youth game will benefit from the Olympics. They also now have their next Great One. Sidney Crosby has moved up to that level – and is a good ambassador for hockey – everywhere. He is an “honest” player and represents the game very well.


Girls/Women’s Game is Healthy

As I have watched the girls’ high school (and Girls Elite League in the fall), the college women’s game and the Olympics, it is clear that girls’/women’s hockey is doing very well in the USA and Canada. Minnesota (and the Upper Midwest) is also playing a big role in that success.

High school hockey is now played at a very good quality level and the top players match up with any of the top players in the country.

The Upper Midwest WCHA women’s teams are good – and several (Wisconsin, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota) are ranked at the top. The USA women’s teams are as good as any in the world and have top players from Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

I have heard some comments recently about poor attendance at girls’/women’s hockey events. I hope that the girls’/women will just forget about that and play the game for the enjoyment, competition and growth. Whether or not big crowds are watching is a “money thing.” Too many sports are controlled by “money things.”


John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.