When the Penguins captured back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, it created a boom in hockey participation in the Pittsburgh area. Another championship in 2009 combined with another set of back-to-back championships the past two seasons has led to an even bigger explosion of hockey in the area.
To illustrate how much hockey has grown in Pittsburgh, consider that in 1991 there were only 10 ice rinks in the area. That number has grown to 30, with most having two sheets of ice. Additionally, there are now 29 member organizations of the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League (PAHL), as compared to 13 in 1991. Teams from as far away as State College, Cumberland, MD and Youngstown, OH all compete in the PAHL. Within the PAHL there are more than 250 teams from Mite to Midget (ages 8-18), competing at levels ranging from A to AAA. High school ice hockey numbers have soared as well. In 1971 there were only six high school ice hockey teams in Western Pennsylvania. Today, there are over 150 teams from over 60 schools at the Varsity, Junior Varsity, and Middle School levels.
Roller hockey and foot hockey have also taken off. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Roller Hockey League (PIRHL) currently boasts of over 20 participating high schools from the Pittsburgh area, fielding over 60 teams at the Varsity and Junior Varsity levels. Similarly, foot hockey leagues are booked to capacity year-round at several area facilities. In fact, the Penguins have opened several foot hockey rinks in the area over the past few years just to keep up with the demand. Even with the increase in the amount of ice, roller, and foot hockey facilities, the supply still barely meets the demand; it is not uncommon for adult league games to be scheduled at 11pm on weekday nights.
There are plenty of graduates of the above-mentioned programs currently playing in the NHL. When the United States captured gold at the World Junior Championships in 2013, four of the 20 U.S. players that dressed for the gold medal game were from the greater Pittsburgh area. Anaheim Ducks netminder John Gibson made 26 saves in the victory and took home tournament MVP honors. Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck recorded an empty net goal and an assist. New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller recorded an assist and Washington Capitals forward prospect Riley Barber logged four shots on goal.
They are part of a growing list of players that have been drafted from the Pittsburgh area. Over the past ten to 15 years, Pittsburgh natives have been popping all over the NHL. Brandon Saad, Ryan Malone, R.J. Umberger, Dylan Reese, Bill Thomas, Nate Guenin, Christian Hanson, Stephen Johns, Matt Bartkowski, and Mike Weber are all from the Greater Pittsburgh area and have seen varying degrees of NHL action.
Additionally, more than a dozen Pittsburghers are currently competing at the Division I college hockey level. Robert Morris University offers Division I hockey for both men and women. The men’s team hosts the annual “Three Rivers Classic” hockey tournament that regularly features some of the top schools in the NCAA. A little further to the East, Penn State began competing at the Division I level for the 2012-13 season and in 2017 won the Big Ten Tournament and lost in the NCAA Final.
Pittsburgh has certainly become one of the United States’ biggest hockey meccas. With record ice, foot, and roller hockey participation, as well as the success of the city’s NHL team, Pittsburgh could make a viable claim as Hockey Town USA; no offense Detroit.