Wisconsin is a state known for its cheese, beer, and picturesque landscapes. But when it comes to ice hockey, many fans are left wondering if the Badger State has an NHL team to support.
While some may assume that Wisconsin does indeed have a team in the National Hockey League, others may have their doubts. This uncertainty has sparked curiosity among avid sports enthusiasts and casual fans alike, prompting them to seek out the truth about Wisconsin’s NHL representation.
If you’re one of these curious individuals looking for answers, then we’ve got good news for you – this article will provide everything you need to know about whether or not Wisconsin has an NHL team. From the history of professional ice hockey in the state to the current status of teams in nearby regions, we’ll explore every facet of this intriguing question with clarity and detail.
“So read on, dear readers, and discover the truth behind this perennially perplexing predicament. You just might be surprised by what you find.”
The NHL in Wisconsin: A Brief History
Wisconsin is known for its love of sports, but does it have an NHL team? The answer is no, but that doesn’t mean hockey isn’t a big part of the state’s sports culture.
Early Days of Hockey in Wisconsin
Hockey has been played in Wisconsin since as early as the 1890s. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, “Ice skating and ice boating were popular winter pastimes among Wisconsinites from the earliest days of settlement in the 1830s.” But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that organized hockey teams began to form.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison was one of the first schools in the state to have a men’s hockey program, which began in 1921. Today, the Badgers are still a major contributor to Wisconsin’s hockey scene.
In addition to college hockey, high school hockey is also a big deal in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) sanctions boys’ hockey across the state with roughly 130 teams competing each year.
Arrival of the Milwaukee Admirals
While there may not be an NHL team in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Admirals provide the closest thing to top-level competition. The team began as an amateur squad in 1970 before joining the professional ranks in 1977 as part of the International Hockey League (IHL).
Since then, the Admirals have called three different leagues home, including the American Hockey League (AHL), where they currently play. The AHL is seen as the second-best league in North America behind only the NHL, so fans in Wisconsin still get to enjoy some top-tier hockey.
The Admirals have also served as a minor league affiliate for several NHL teams over the years, including the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks.
According to an article in OnMilwaukee, “While it’s true that no city in Wisconsin has ever hosted an NHL franchise, Milwaukee is considered by many to be one of the better minor-league hockey markets in North America. The Admirals’ fans are known for their passion and commitment.”
“We wanted a franchise in Wisconsin and particularly in Madison because we know what kind of a sports town that would make,” -Bruce Norris, former owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, on the failed attempt to bring an NHL team to Wisconsin (via The Capital Times).
While there may not be an NHL team in Wisconsin, the state still has a rich history when it comes to hockey. From college to high school to the Milwaukee Admirals, there are plenty of opportunities to catch some great games throughout the year.
The Prospects of an NHL Team in Wisconsin
Economic Benefits for the State
Wisconsin is known for many things, but a professional hockey team is not one of them. However, that could change in the near future as some are pushing for an NHL team in the state.
If this were to happen, it would bring significant economic benefits to the state. A new arena would be built, creating jobs and generating revenue for local businesses. With a foothold in the Midwest, some think it could help spread interest in hockey and create a larger pool of talent from which the league can draw.
“The state has shown a willingness to support sports teams, and I believe there is enough interest in hockey here to make a franchise successful,” says John Shannon, an analyst at Sportsnet.
Not only would a new team generate revenue with ticket sales, merchandise, and concessions, but it would also attract tourism to the area. Fans would flock from across the country to watch their favorite teams play against Wisconsin’s club.
Challenges to Overcome for an NHL Franchise
While the prospects of an NHL team in Wisconsin are exciting – both for hockey fans and the state’s economy – there are still many challenges that must be overcome in order to successfully launch and operate a franchise.
First and foremost, building a new arena is expensive and time-consuming. Although the Governor of Wisconsin has expressed his support for a potential team in the state, he has also noted that public funding would be unlikely.
Additionally, corporate sponsorship and advertising dollars may be hard to come by in Wisconsin. Unlike markets such as New York or Los Angeles, Wisconsin does not have a large pool of major corporations who may want to put money into sponsoring a sports team.
“It’s a chicken and egg problem,” says James Hardaway, a professor of sports law at the University of Nebraska. “Without an anchor tenant – aka the hockey team – drawing in big crowds and generating attention, sponsors may be reluctant to commit.”
Finally, there is the challenge of fan support. While Wisconsin does have a rich hockey history thanks to its college teams, loyalty may be divided between these amateur clubs and a new professional franchise.
Nevertheless, some believe that the potential rewards outweigh the risks when it comes to launching an NHL team in Wisconsin. As John Shannon notes, “In many ways, the success of any sports franchise can come down to timing and opportunity. I think if the right people with the right vision and resources present themselves, a hockey team in Wisconsin could thrive and add to the state’s proud sporting culture.”
Wisconsin’s Love for Hockey: A Strong Fanbase
Hockey is a sport that has gained an incredible amount of popularity in Wisconsin over the years. Despite not having an NHL team, the Badger State remains one of the most passionate hockey communities in the United States. The combination of high school and youth hockey programs, local college teams, and professional minor league franchises have helped build a strong foundation for the state’s love affair with ice hockey.
High School and Youth Hockey Programs
One of the reasons why Wisconsin has such a fervent hockey fanbase is due to its robust high school and youth hockey programs. According to statistics from USA Hockey, there were nearly 20,000 registered youth players in Wisconsin during the 2019-2020 season, making it one of the top states in the country for youth participation.
Many former Wisconsin high school hockey players have gone on to play at Division I programs across the country, including several who have played for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team. It’s evident that a lot of young athletes are drawn to this fast-paced sport as they grow older here in Wisconsin due to their exposure to these program at a younger age.
The Success of the University of Wisconsin Hockey Team
The University of Wisconsin hockey team, also known as the Badgers, plays a significant role in the state’s hockey culture, and many believe it drives the fandom behind the sport in the region. Historically, the Badgers have been one of the best programs in the NCAA, amassing seven national championships (most recently in 2006) and numerous conference titles.
In recent years, although they’ve hit a bit of a rough patch, the Badgers continue their tradition of helping produce some of the finest talent in the sport, with notable alumni including NHL stars such as Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter. The Badgers are often followed passionately by the folks in Wisconsin’s communities, and home games at the Kohl Center usually sell out fast.
Despite not having an NHL team of its own, Wisconsin has established itself as one of America’s top hockey markets. Its large population that comprises many passionate fans prove time and again that you don’t need a professional franchise to love the game.
“Wisconsin is a special place for everyone that’s played there. I think it’s evident in the coaches and players who’ve been part of the program over the years.” -Joe Pavelski
Potential Venues for an NHL Team in Wisconsin
The Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee
Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and home to a state-of-the-art multipurpose arena, the Fiserv Forum. Built in 2018, this arena replaced the Bradley Center and serves as the current home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. However, the Fiserv Forum has also been designed with ice hockey in mind and could potentially become home to an NHL team.
In fact, back in 2016, former NHL player Jeremy Roenick expressed interest in bringing an NHL franchise to Milwaukee and specifically mentioned the Fiserv Forum as a potential venue. In an interview with WTMJ-TV, Roenick stated that “Milwaukee is an incredible sports town” and “the Fiserv Forum is already built to handle NHL-sized crowds.”
The Fiserv Forum seems like a viable option for hosting an NHL team in Wisconsin due to its modern facilities and existing infrastructure.
The Alliant Energy Center in Madison
The Alliant Energy Center is a multi-venue complex located in Madison, the capital of Wisconsin. While it primarily hosts agricultural fairs and conventions, it has also been used for concerts, shows, and sporting events such as indoor soccer and basketball.
There have been discussions about renovating the Alliant Energy Center to make it suitable for ice hockey. In fact, a proposal was made in 2019 by local businessman John Roudebush to turn the venue into a $250 million sports complex and bring an NHL team to Madison.
“(The Alliant Energy Center) is the centerpiece for any massive development or growth in Dane County. It would be a logical spot for a new NHL franchise. The new arena will need to be designed with the requirements and specifications needed for an NHL team.” -John Roudebush
If these plans were to come to fruition, the Alliant Energy Center could become a major sports destination in Wisconsin and provide another potential home for an NHL team.
The Resch Center in Green Bay
Green Bay is primarily known for being the home of the NFL’s Packers, but it also has a smaller venue that could potentially host an NHL team: the Resch Center. This arena opened in 2002 and currently serves as the home of the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey team at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
While the Resch Center is not specifically designed for ice hockey, it does have seating for approximately 8,000 fans and has hosted preseason games for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. Additionally, the nearby city of Appleton has expressed interest in building a larger multi-purpose stadium that could potentially house both an AHL and NHL team.
“Given that there’s good cooperation between venues in Green Bay and Appleton — we work together very closely over scheduling to make sure we complement each other well instead of competing directly against each other… It certainly presents some opportunity.” -Jeff Mirkes, president of Downtown Green Bay Inc.
While the Resch Center may not be the most ideal location for hosting an NHL team due to its size and lack of NHL-specific features, it could still potentially serve as a temporary or backup location until a larger and more suitable facility can be constructed.
Wisconsin’s Top Hockey Players: Who Could Represent the State in the NHL?
Ryan Suter: A Wisconsin Native and NHL All-Star
Ryan Suter is a defenseman who currently plays for the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League. He was born on January 21, 1985, in Madison, Wisconsin. During his amateur career, he played for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Later on, he joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison hockey team.
Suter made his NHL debut with the Nashville Predators in 2005-06. Since then, he has established himself as one of the league’s top defensemen, earning numerous accolades including two Olympic silver medals, three NHL All-Star selections, and being named to the NHL Second All-Star Team twice.
Despite not having an NHL team of their own, Wisconsin continues to produce some of the best hockey players in the world and Ryan Suter is no exception.
Joe Pavelski: A Former Wisconsin Badger and Stanley Cup Finalist
Joe Pavelski is a center who currently serves as the captain of the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League. He was born on July 11, 1984, in Plover, Wisconsin. Pavelski began his college career by playing for the University of Wisconsin Badgers from 2004 to 2006 before turning pro.
Since joining the NHL in 2006, Pavelski has become a model of consistency. He has amassed over 800 points in his career, has been selected to six NHL All-Star games, and helped lead the San Jose Sharks to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2016.
Pavelski’s success has put him among the elite players in the league and has helped to put Wisconsin on the map as a hockey hotbed.
Blake Geoffrion: The First Wisconsin Native to Win the Hobey Baker Award
Blake Geoffrion is a retired center who played for several NHL teams, including the Nashville Predators, Montreal Canadiens, and Columbus Blue Jackets. He was born on February 3, 1988, in Plantation, Florida but grew up in Brentwood, Tennessee. Despite being born outside of Wisconsin, Geoffrion is considered a native because he spent most of his childhood there with his family roots in the state’s hockey scene.
Geoffrion played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin from 2007 to 2010 where he won multiple individual awards such as WCHA Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four before going professional.
In 2010, Geoffrion became the first Wisconsin native to win the prestigious Hobey Baker Award, which is given annually to the top male collegiate hockey player in the United States. This award solidified Geoffrion’s place in Badger history and in the greater Wisconsin sports community.
“Wisconsin has always been known for producing top-notch hockey players, and these three athletes are just a small sample of that rich tradition.” -Mike Eaves
Wisconsin may not have its own NHL team, but it continues to produce some of the best hockey players in the world. With Ryan Suter, Joe Pavelski, and Blake Geoffrion leading the way, Wisconsin hockey fans can be proud of their homegrown talent making waves at the highest level of the sport.
Alternative Hockey Options in Wisconsin: AHL, NCAA, and More
If you’re a hockey fan living in Wisconsin but feel like there’s a gap in your life since the state doesn’t have an NHL team of its own, fear not! Wisconsin actually has quite a few other options for quality hockey viewing. Below are some alternatives to keep in mind.
The Milwaukee Admirals: A Top AHL Team
The American Hockey League is essentially the minor league system for the NHL, with teams full of players who are either looking to get called up to the big leagues or working on their skills before they make the jump. The Milwaukee Admirals are one such team, and are actually consistently ranked as one of the top teams in the entire league.
The team was originally founded in 1970 as part of the now-defunct International Hockey League, but joined the AHL when the two leagues merged in 2001. They play in the UWM Panther Arena in downtown Milwaukee, and tickets can be purchased easily through Ticketmaster.
“Milwaukee has been tremendous,” said Nashville Predators General Manager, David Poile. “It’s helped develop both our staff off the ice and many of the players that have become impact players at the NHL level.”
The University of Wisconsin Hockey Team: A Powerhouse in NCAA Hockey
The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is another place where future NHL stars often hone their skills. The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team is especially noteworthy, having won a total of seven national championships throughout school history and regularly competing near the top of the rankings. The UW Badgers play home games at the Kohl Center in Madison, which also hosts Badger basketball games during the winter months. You can find game schedules and buy tickets on the UW Athletics website.
“Playing in Madison for the Badgers was a dream come true,” said NHL defenseman Brian Rafalski, who played at Wisconsin from 1991-95 and later won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. “The atmosphere is incredible, and the passion of the fans is second to none.”
The Madison Capitols: A Junior Hockey Team in the USHL
Junior hockey is another developmental pathway for young players looking to eventually make it onto an NHL roster. The United States Hockey League (USHL) is the top junior league in the country, and the Madison Capitols are one of its teams.
The team plays home games at Hartmeyer Ice Arena in Madison, which runs just over 2,400 seats. With relatively cheap ticket prices ($8-$22), it’s a great option for families or those who simply love watching aspiring stars play their hearts out.
“When I got picked by Madison, they couldn’t have been happier and neither could’ve I,” says former Capitol forward Kamil Sadlocha. “It’s amazing here.”
The Wisconsin Wilderness: A Junior Hockey Team in the NA3HL
If you want even more affordable junior hockey viewing opportunities, the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) might be just what you’re looking for. This is a tier III junior league, meaning the players are generally younger (18-20) and less experienced than those found in the USHL or college teams.
The Wisconsin Wilderness have called Superior, WI their home since 2017. They compete against other teams across the Midwest region, with home games played at the Wessman Arena on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus.
“What separates my time in Wisconsin from other places has been the high level of hockey that we play against top competition,” said former Wilderness player Nick Tandeski. “While also developing as a player and a person, the commitment of everyone around me to making sure it was a great experience is what made it special.”
So while you may not have an NHL team right in your backyard, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy quality hockey action in Wisconsin. The options above range from inexpensive junior league games to high-level college matchups, so no matter what your preference, you’re sure to find something worth watching.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there an NHL team based in Wisconsin?
No, there is currently no NHL team based in Wisconsin. However, the state is home to the AHL team, the Milwaukee Admirals.
What is the closest NHL team to Wisconsin?
The closest NHL team to Wisconsin is the Chicago Blackhawks. They are located just 90 miles south of the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
Have there been any attempts to bring an NHL team to Wisconsin?
Yes, there have been several attempts to bring an NHL team to Wisconsin. One notable attempt was by former Milwaukee Bucks owner, Herb Kohl, who tried to bring a team to Milwaukee in the late 1990s.
How many NHL players were born or raised in Wisconsin?
There have been 43 NHL players born or raised in Wisconsin, including players such as Ryan Suter, Joe Pavelski, and Phil Kessel.
What is the popularity of hockey in Wisconsin?
Hockey is very popular in Wisconsin, with the state boasting over 35,000 registered youth hockey players. The University of Wisconsin also has a successful NCAA Division I hockey program.
Are there any notable professional hockey players who played college hockey in Wisconsin?
Yes, there are several notable professional hockey players who played college hockey in Wisconsin. Some of these players include Chris Chelios, Joe Pavelski, and Ryan Suter.