What is it about our Minnesota boys that every time there is even a sniff of one of them returning home to play for their home town team, Minnesotans will dive head first in to a one-inch deep pool of speculation? Deeply-seated provincialism runs hog- wild through the streams and lakes of the North Star State. Thomas Vanek is really not even a native Minnesotan - he's not even a native of the United States - and yet people are losing their minds about the possibility of him returning after this season.
Where did this provincialism come from? When did it become so important to the sports fans that a person was born in Minnesota? The University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Men's Hockey team has had a long-entrenched tradition dating back to 1952 when, then head coach and Minnesota hockey legend, John Mariucci made a conscious decision to recruit ONLY home-grown talent. This helped high school hockey in the Gopher State develop into what it is today. Every coach up until Don Lucia, who still has a greater than 90% home-grown roster, in 2000 would open the borders again and start recruiting from other states and the world.
But why is there this infatuation with hometown players even when it just may not make sense for the team? I mean, there was no way the Wild was going to sign Jamie Langenbrunner (Cloquet) after the lock out last season. Everyone believes that Darby Hendrickson (Richfield) scored the first Wild goal when truth-be-told it was Marian Gaborik in the inaugural game in Anaheim against the Ducks. Darby Hendrickson may have been the one to score the first Wild goal at home, but he wasn't even the first to score at the Xcel Energy Center. That title belongs to then Philadelphia Flyer Mark Recchi. It was stupid for Doug Risebrough to sign Mark Parrish (Bloomington) to the kind of contract he did, but he did it to appease the fans. Minnesota fans bend the truth because they want to feel like they had a part in the success of the franchise.
The provincialism spills into everything else we do as a state. Baseball fans in town would have burned down the IDS tower had the Twins not re-signed St. Paul-native Joe Mauer to a lucrative $24 million per year contract. Fans even were up in arms about the grass at Target Field being from a turf farm in Colorado and not here. When the Golden Gophers were searching for a new football coach, the athletic director had to appease fans by saying they needed to find someone that "got" Minnesota. During the weeks before the Vikings stadium design was released, people were calling into the local radio station pleading, "I just hope it has a Minnesota feel to it."
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love seeing people succeed at a high level that happen to be from the same state as me. At the same time, it is not the only deciding factor in determining roster spots for a professional team and a professional organization. It just seems that in the State of Minnesota, and even more so, the State of Hockey, the term Favorite Son has just a little bit more meaning.