Hockey's future sound

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

The game of hockey in Canada is a long way from a crisis situation in terms of its standing in this country.

Hockey remains king, but there are some legitimate concerns with regards to its future growth.

Chief among some of those concerns discussed yesterday at the OneGoal Canadian summit were the barriers new Canadians face in getting on the ice and the impact that will have on future registration numbers.

OneGoal is a collaboration of hockey entities that have come together to grow the game of hockey. The group includes members of the NHL, the NHLPA, Hockey Canada, major hockey sponsors, leagues, retailers and just about anyone with an interest in seeing the game prosper.

According to Glen McCurdie, a senior director at Hockey Canada, registration in minor hockey, which currently sits around 585,000, is showing areas of decline. While male participation is down slightly, it has been offset by a similar-sized increase in female participation. Numbers dipped noticably from 2002 to 2004 but in the past few years have made a bit of a comeback.

But with new Canadians arriving at a rate 5% quicker than those being born here, the group discussed ways to introduce arriving immigrants to the game to sustain registration numbers.

Other reasons for declining enrolment cited were the cost (equipment and ice time), the time commitment the sport requires, and even the manner in which the media portrays the violence in the game.

Glenn Healy, director of player affairs for the NHLPA, stressed that the game remains in good shape.

"I think the groups that were here today -- the NHL, Hockey Canada, the NHLPA, OneGoal -- pretty much every fabric of hockey was involved in those meetings today. I think we can sweep some pretty big changes if we put our collective thoughts together," Healy said.

CHANGING MINDSETS

On the cost issue, the consensus was the real solution is changing the mindset of players and parents throughout the country who believe a minor hockey coach must be paid in order to guarantee results, or believe a $350 composite stick is necessary for a 9-year-old.

"Six practices a week and being on the ice every day? There are ways to do that in a different fashion that are cheaper," McCurdie said. "You can do some off-ice stuff. I think there are a lot of peripheral costs that are associated with the sport as well, that (aren't necessary).

"I think there are a lot of ways to decrease the actual overall cost of hockey. You don't need to be in 10 tournaments a year. I really don't think we need kids changing helmets every year to match the entire team. Having track suits and leather equipment bags and that sort of stuff ... I think there are ways to decrease the costs that just haven't been explored."

Yesterday, they were explored and talked about in detail. Hopefully someone decides to act upon it.


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