Is ice hockey only for the rich?

Throughout history hockey has been known as Canada's sport. But has it become only a sport for the wealthy?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already the middle of August as it seems like summer just started. With that said, this is the time of year when Canadians coast to coast begin to dust off their equipment bags, tape up their sticks and sharpen their skates for another exciting season of hockey.

One thing they also have had to do, increasingly every year, is save up their money and prepare their minds for the ugly price tag accompanying Canada’s national pastime. According to the study, “Beyond the Blue Line,” published by the Canadian Scholarship Trust, the cost of playing hockey can add up to as high as $8,000 for one year. While that measure is higher than other figures such as the $1,500 that RBC calculated in 2014, it’s still astronomically more expensive than other sports such as soccer, basketball and baseball per year.

In the same Canadian Scholarship Trust study, 66 per cent of Canadian parents indicated that they themselves have, or know someone that has, borrowed money or used their savings for extracurricular activities. It’s come to the point where parents have to ask themselves, is it really worth the sacrifice of signing my child up for a sport if it means no family trips or less savings in personal bank accounts for the future? That’s a large cost in exchange for waking up at 6 a.m. on Saturdays, drinking Tim’s coffee and sitting in sub-zero degree temperatures.

This, of course, is just about the idea of playing minor league hockey. It has next to nothing to do with the fees required of one’s family who is looking to make their son or daughter the next Sidney Crosby and Hayley Wickenheiser. Those costs multiply when you start incorporating the cost of the top equipment, team jackets and travelling to locations far from home, all in the hopes of finding a scout who will see your kid play and be impressed.

In recent history, this increase has without a doubt had a quantifiable effect on registration numbers across the country. In 2012, the ice began to thin as Hockey Canada experienced a decrease of over 200,000 participants with nearly twice as many Canadian children under the age of 14 playing soccer as hockey.

While Hockey Canada has combated this problem through the creation of programs like Bauer’s First Shift Program, which aims to provide equipment and introductory classes for beginners in need, more can still be done to ensure hockey remains Canada’s game.

If ignored as a problem, you better get used to watching other countries dominate the World Juniors every Christmas time. Or familiarize yourself with their anthems ever four years as the current crop of dominant Canadian hockey players fades into extinction. That’s a depressingly nebulous picture for many Canadian hockey fans playing the sport today.

It’s hard to imagine a way for this problem to be solved without Hockey Canada taking the initiative to make hockey more affordable. Certainly the government could play a role as well in creating tax credits to allow families to get their kids into the national sport. There’s an idea.

In all likelihood, it would likely require a wholistic approach rather than one body taking the reigns to ensure Canada remains the hockey superpower of the world; to ensure that the next generation of Canadians remembers the sport as synonymous with the country they grew old in.

No doubt about it, though, there’s work to be done.

Eric Elliott is a reporter with the Invermere Valley Echo and can be reached at