June 2, 2014 6:48 pm

Fewer Albertans picking up hockey sticks

WATCH: Hockey might be considered Canada’s Game, but more and more, Canadians are opting out. Kendra Slugoski finds out why.

EDMONTON – Few things are more Canadian than hockey, but it appears fewer Albertans are taking part.

According to numbers released by Hockey Canada, overall player registration for the 2013-14 season in Alberta dropped 3.6 per cent to 69,112, down from 71,691 in the previous year.

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A closer look at the breakdown reveals an interesting trend.

The number of Alberta girls playing hockey is increasing: up 7.5 per cent this latest season from the previous. It’s a growing trend. Since 2004-05, female enrolment has increased nearly 42 per cent, from 6,444 to 9,131.

The trend isn’t the same for men, with participation down about five per cent after plateauing for several seasons.

Sean Beissel, campus director of the Donnan Hockey Program in Edmonton, is witnessing the drop  in interest.

He believes there are three reasons for the decreased enrolment: length of the season and how it conflicts with other sports and family activities, new Canadians who may not be familiar with the sport and probably most daunting for many families: cost.

“The cost of the game is expensive,” says Beissel.

“The fear of injuries gets in the way of both recruitment and retention, and other activities – it’s a busy life, and hockey is a busy life on top of that.”

Despite the drop in numbers, Beissel says program organizers are not worried. He says he’s heard from the Edmonton Public School Board that there are fewer students than normal in middle school right now.

“So in some ways it’s a concern…  but in other ways it’s also a little bit of a trend. It’s just a little bit of a moment in time.  “

Beissel has been part of a discussion with Hockey Alberta and Hockey Canada, looking at ways to expose the sport to more families, while at the same time lowering the high price to participate and perhaps creating a shorter season or multiple seasons throughout the year.

Twenty-one year-old Brandon Wilson played hockey up until the beginning of high school, when an injury and other activities took over.

“Huge time commitment in hockey.

“I started playing other sports, I started picking up rugby, and it just… with all the things I was doing, there just wasn’t enough time. “

Meanwhile, Shelley Coombes says hockey is not in the cards for her young  grandson.  Her daughter would love to enroll four-year-old Ethan,  but says the costs are unmanageable, even with second-hand equipment.

“Soccer is an option because it’s a lot cheaper and close by communities”

READ MORE: Canada’s game? Hockey losing momentum with cash-strapped families

A recent look at the price of playing A or AA level hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) revealed it costs the average player approximately $5,500 per season.

But, Brian Caines, president of the KC Knights, expects the recent decline in enrolment could turn around.

“On an Olympic year, which has just passed, we usually see enrolment triple.”

Hockey Canada says participation in every sport is down. Still, it has set a goal of attracting 1 million new families in 10 years time.

No. of novice hockey players (BC, Alta, Ont, Que) »

No. of novice hockey players (BC, Alta, Ont, Que)

The number of 8-year-olds playing organized hockey hasn't budged in six years across the country's biggest hockey-playing provinces. In that time, Canada's population has grown by two million.

With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News

© Shaw Media, 2014

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