Melting Ice: Canada's Hockey Crisis

Melting Ice: Canada's Hockey Crisis

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I grew up in a hockey arena, not literally of course, but it still felt that way.  From the age of 4 right up until I left home to attend university competitive hockey was always my number one passion.  I was fortunate enough to play rep hockey for my hometown Aurora, Ontario, was a member of my varsity school hockey team for five seasons and played numerous seasons of four on four summer hockey. During that time there were endless hours of practice, plenty of painstaking off ice sessions, numerous thrilling victories, too many anguishing losses and handful of championships to top it all off.  Those are just memories now.  What I still have from those days of playing minor hockey is the special relationship I share with my dad, who was the Head Coach for almost all of my rep teams, and the everlasting bonds and friendships I still have with many of my ex-teammates.  My life would have been very different had I never played hockey, which is why I am deeply saddened by decreasing participation rates amongst Canadian hockey players.

I am going to throw some statistics at you, I hope you're sitting down:

-There are currently 572,00 players enrolled in Hockey Canada, that number is down more than 200,000 from our nation's peak participation rates! (Therien, 2012).  This stat is incredibly hard to fathom considering that the number of registrations by Canadian female hockey players is at an all time high

-There are currently more ice hockey participants in the U.S then there are in Canada (CBC News, 2013)

-Nearly twice as many Canadian children under the age of 14 play soccer than hockey (CBC News, 2013)

-According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information there were a reported 8,000 hockey-related injuries in Ontario hospital emergency rooms alone! (Therien, 2012)

-A five year-study of on-ice amateur-hockey injuries indicated that 66% of overall injuries were the result of accidents that happen during the game, such as colliding with the boards/teammates or getting hit by a puck, the other 34% of injuries were attributed strictly to body-checking! (Therien, 2012)

-A joint study by the University of Calgary, McGill University and the University of Laval revealed that 11 to 12 year old hockey players in leagues that allow body checking are 2.5 times more likely to sustain an injury and 3.5 times more likely to suffer a concussion (Therien, 2012)

-It cost approximately $740 dollars to purchase average to below average equipment for one youth player, not including goalies (CBC News, 2013).  That number gets amplified significantly when purchasing high-end equipment or equipment for teens and adults.  New goalie pads for teens and adults now cost well over $1000.

-A survey by Hockey Canada indicated that the average hockey parent spent roughly $3000 on minor hockey in the 2011-2012 season (Mirtle, 2008)

-A family has to pay an estimated $8000-$15,000 per year to enroll a child in AAA hockey (CBC News, 2013)

-Hockey Canada surveyed parents whose children had recently stopped playing hockey and 46% of those surveyed indicated that lower costs would make them "much more likely" or "somewhat more likely" to allow their kids to return to the ice

What are these numbers trying to tell us? Well, clearly the price of playing hockey has gotten astronomical, which is why hockey is now widely regarded as a "white-collar sport".  Participation rates are dropping drastically, although participation rates amongst females are increasingly rapidly.  That clearly indicates that the number of Canadian boys participating in minor hockey has fallen off a cliff.  With the rise in concussion awareness, coupled with the results of studies linking the onset of hockey injuries to body checking, it is very reasonable to believe that the natural tenacity and aggression of competitive hockey is turning male players (and/or their parents) away from the sport. 

In my playing days I was a beefy, power forward and loved getting involved in the physical aspect of the game.  Upon reflection, I was extremely luckily that I never suffered any serious injuries, although more than a few of my teammates did. With more and more studies being published that clearly link the prevalence of hockey injuries to body-checking it is hard to argue against anyone who does not want to be subjected, or have their child subjected to that kind of danger.  No wonder we are seeing the inauguration of hockey leagues, like the Safe Rep Hockey League (which is a division of the Canadian Independent Hockey Federation), that are tailored towards talented  hockey players who want to play in a competitive environment, but with the risk of injury due to body checking mitigated.

All in all, as a Canadian who is extremely passionate about the sport of hockey I am deeply troubled by the current climate and future of hockey in our country.  So I am asking you, is it the rise in injury awareness, or the dramatic increase in the cost of playing hockey that is turning our fellow Canadians away from the sport.

Please tweet your response to @CSIBSports on twitter, we would love to hear your feedback.

-Tyler Tisdale