Hockey Rules All in This Tiny Midwest Town

They’ve got the World’s Largest Hockey Stick… sort of.

hockey stick sculpture
Feast your eyes on The Big Stick | Photo courtesy of Matthew Goudreau
Feast your eyes on The Big Stick | Photo courtesy of Matthew Goudreau

It looms, right on Monroe Street: the World’s Largest Free-Standing Hockey Stick. At 10,000 pounds and 110-feet long, it’s a fitting idol for Eveleth, Minnesota, aka the "Hockey Capital of the United States.” Propped up next to it is a puck, a “biscuit” in hockey parlance. If that biscuit were chocolate it would be 700 pounds of delicious.
Nearby on Hat Trick Avenue is the reason most people make the pilgrimage to this miniscule Iron Range town, population 3,600: The US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum (not to be confused with the other, much bigger Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto). 

Opened in 1973, its three eclectically-curated floors feature vintage ice skates, an old Zamboni, and a giant scoreboard from The Mighty Ducks. There’s footage and memorabilia from the legendary 1980 Olympics “Miracle on Ice” game, when the US team—almost two thirds of which hailed from Minnesota—bested the Soviet Union 4-3.  The sportscaster’s voice still echoes in a dramatic climax, even with the outcome well-known: “Five seconds left in the game.... Do you believe in miracles?!?"

"If you don’t love [hockey] in Minnesota, you probably end up moving."

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, ravenous hockey fandom comes with the territory. “Hockey’s one of those sports you either love or you don’t. If you don’t love it in Minnesota, you probably end up moving,” says Michele Woods, owner of The Rink Sports Bar & Grill, whose burgers sport names like “Smothered Puck” and “Blue Line.” (It’s not the only hockey-themed joint in town; the Penalty Box is a worthy stop for karaoke.)

“Skates are a popular baby gift up here,” adds Woods. “Our kids basically get skates before shoes.”

Eveleth’s claim as the Hockey Capital of the US stems from its well-earned reputation as a factory for elite players. 12 of the 180 or so Hockey Hall of Fame inductees hail from Eveleth, including USA Hockey Executive Director Doug Palazarri and the famed John Maysich, member of the US ice hockey team that won a silver medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics, and the gold in 1960.  
Weirdly, Eveleth owes its hockey prominence to the sport of curling. In its early days, hockey was relegated to outdoor frozen lakes and tough guys who could withstand subzero temperatures. It was the Eveleth curling team—returning from bonspiels, or curling competitions, up in Canada—that jumped on the idea to build an indoor sports arena featuring both a curling rink and skating rink. The building opened in January of 1919, stimulating local interest in hockey and almost immediately churning out above-average players. A few years later the building was replaced by the Hippodrome—the “Hipp”—now the oldest operating arena in Minnesota, with its own mini museum of hockey memorabilia.   

These days in Eveleth you may also run into some actors: It’s the set of the upcoming Way of the Warriors, an underdog tale of a high school coach who—spoiler alert—overcomes adversity to probably lead his team to victory. Screenwriter and Minnesota native John Montague told local news that he was inspired by a visit to the hockey-crazed town. “As a kid growing up, you just really revered all those teams and towns up in Northern Minnesota,” he said. “We always looked at that really being the home of hockey and where so many of the quote-unquote real hockey players come from.”

Maybe the film will weave in the dramatic sublot of The Big Stick, or The Stick if you’re in the know. When it was unveiled in 1995 it was touted as the “World’s Largest Hockey Stick,” until someone mentioned that there was a stick in British Columbia that was… bigger. Eveleth’s original stick was 107 feet long, but Canada’s clocked in at 205. To make matters worse, the slighted stick had begun to crack, and had to be taken down in 2001. 
But never fear: After some investigation it was discovered that Canada’s stick was not actually a standalone stick, but a sculpture, tacked to a building. Eveleth could once again claim the recognition and a new stick was erected, at 110 feet, on a vacant lot now known as “Hockey Plaza,” later joined by statues of greats John Mariucci and Frank Brimsek, by artist Jeff Kreitz.
They’re diplomatic about it though, and now call theirs “The World's Largest Free-Standing Hockey Stick.” Speak softly and all that.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She's seen The Mighty Ducks.