Time management

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Does Edmonton's claim as the Heartland of Hockey have an expiry date? And is it sooner rather than later?

You may have noticed in the past month both Sherwood Park and Edmonton minor hockey associations have gone to their city councils about the lack of ice available to run their programs.

PRO FACTORY

In an area which has long prided itself on the number of pro hockey players it produces, one passionate observer is convinced that the Edmonton and area record of being the world's No. 1 per capita producer of professional players is in definite danger.

"If you start running minor hockey programs with 38 to 40 hours of ice time per year per player, how are any of these kids going to be able to compete against kids from any other programs?" asks Joan Kirillo, for years the chairman of our city's Guinness World Records' largest minor hockey tournament.

"If you have 22 hours for games and 16 hours of practice ice, how are you going to be able to run anything?

"How are you going to continue producing the players?" asks the past chairman of Quikcard Minor Hockey Week which will run next month with 534 teams, 34 more than last year, featuring a total of 761 games over 10 days.

Edmonton Minor Hockey Association president Lorne MacDonald said the culture of hockey in this city and surrounding area has so far managed to maintain the level of the programs although he said it was disturbing last year to hear Sherwood Park was forced to turn novice-aged kids away.

He says so far with the EMHA where there's been a will there's been a way.

"In our novice, atom and pee wee programs, players from the age of six to 12 are down to 22 hours for games and 22 hours of practice time."

A minimum of 50 hours is what they need, he says, but there are some "more recreational" levels of those divisions where the teams keep the 22 hours for games but turn back some of the practice time to be used by other more elite teams.

"Parents hunt down ice time all over the place. There's a willingness to pay for extra ice time," MacDonald said of private rental ice available at places like River Cree and smaller towns outside the Edmonton metro area.

"There's a lot of fundraising and top end teams are willing to take trips to places all over the province and even further away to play. It's all a part of the hockey culture we have here.

"A few years back we put in a rule of a maximum 45 games. We had one novice team play 80 games that year," he said of little guys playing essentially a full NHL schedule.

"Right now the skill players with junior, college and professional potential are all probably still getting their ice. We're still No. 1.

"The Edmonton area still produces more players per capita than anywhere else in the world.

"But our number one challenge is ice, no question. We are only able to do what the infrastructure is allowing us to do."

Forget the Heartland of Hockey for a moment. The same situation is reaching crisis conditions around the country where an inordinate number of small town arenas were built in 1967 as Centennial projects and need to be replaced.

Hockey Canada's director of development Paul Carson has put together some rather stunning statistics.

"Only 27% of Canada's new arenas have been built in the last 25 years. A total of 67% are older than 30 years old, when the life expectancy of such buildings before retrofitting is 32 years.

INEFFICIENCIES

"A remarkable 5% were built between 1900 and 1950 and another 7% between 1950 and 1960.

"What we're dealing with are a lot of buildings not operating at the same efficiency as the newer plants.

"Right now, for example, you ask people from various towns in Saskatchewan they'll tell you there isn't a problem. But they mostly have aging rinks that are soon going to be a problem," said Carson.

"In the cities most facilities are operating at capacity right now.

"When one of those facilities goes down, all those hours of ice time get pulled out of the inventory. Bowness, in the Calgary system, had a brine pipe problem that took four weeks of ice time out of play. There was no other ice time to replace it."

With the lack of ice, the price of hockey equipment and the current condition of the economy, it might not just be Edmonton not producing hockey players as in the past but the same may be true for the greatest hockey nation on the planet.

The Heartland of Hockey may end up somewhere in the Czech Republic.\


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