June 2, 2014 6:19 pm

What Hockey Canada is doing to fight declining enrollment

Todd Savage grew up playing hockey and when he had a child, he had the skates and stick ready.

“I had everything ready and the day he came to me and said, ‘I want to play hockey,’ it was one of the greatest days,” he said.

Now Savage has two kids playing hockey and the Whitby resident admits that comes at a cost.

“It’s an expensive sport,” Savage said.

“There’s a large commitment financially that has to happen and there’s a large commitment time wise.”

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Cost and time may be some of the reasons parents are opting to enroll their children in other sports.

But there is also growing concern about head injuries.

Approximately 30,000 hockey players a year suffer a concussion, according to Statistics Canada.

Holland Bloorview Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital works with various sports organizations and provides baseline testing for concussions as well as follow up education and care.

“There is research to support that there is an under reporting in concussions,” Nick Reed, a clinician scientist at the hospital said. “But I think with time, we’re seeing that people are starting to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussion and are reporting the injury.”

There were about 5,600 fewer players registered in the 2013-14 season, than in 2012-2013, according to Hockey Canada.

And the demographics are changing; girls hockey is growing while boys hockey has been declining for the past three seasons.

“And we want to continue to keep the game attractive for kids coming into the game,” Todd Jackson, the senior manager for Insurance and Safety for Hockey Canada said.

“It’s all about learning the game and learning it in a fun manner. That’s what’s going to keep kids in the game as they grow.”

Jackson says safety is at the top of list too.

In the 2002 Hockey Canada adopted a new penalty for checking to the head. And just last year, it banned bodychecking for players 13 and under.

“They come into the system, once they’re into the system they have that extra two years of pee-wee to have really strong skill development and that’s key to the safety of a player,” Jackson said.

But who may not have a cultural connection to hockey move to Ontario, sports like soccer are seeing higher registration.

Savage says he sees how much has changed.

“When I was growing up you’d see hockey nets on every street. And now it’s very rare to see it its not like it used to be. You see a lot more kids out on the field playing soccer and baseball,” he said.

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