Ice Hockey is one of the few sports that has seen consistent growth in youth participation rates. USA Hockey is reporting an increase of 5.6% for the U8 age group — their target demographic — during the 2017-18 season. New participant numbers increased for the fifth consecutive year as the organization reached its largest total ever while the Pacific Northwest saw an increase of 4.1% which also set a new record high for the region.
While it’s exciting to see the growth of the game in non-traditional markets, increased rates with limited facilities have led to higher costs in a sport that is expensive enough thanks to equipment prices. With an NHL team projected to begin play during the 2020 season, those rates will only increase.
“For us, participation continues to grow,” Dave Fischer, senior director of communications for USA Hockey, told Sports Events Magazine. “And that’s across the board at all levels, including youth, girls/women, disabled and adult. So, our playing population is expanding.”
USA Hockey has worked to bring the costs down through programs such as their Try Hockey for Free initiative which assists youth hockey programs in providing kids the opportunity to try the sport for free. Additionally, the National Hockey League has developed their Learn to Play program which grants kids aged 5-8 the chance to skate with a certified coach while using borrowed gear at no cost to the participant. NHL teams have opened up their practice facilities to the public and developed in-house youth and high school programs.
In 2008, the Anaheim Ducks launched the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL) which features high school varsity and junior varsity teams from three states and two Canadian provinces. They followed that up in 2013 with the Anaheim Ducks Inline High School Hockey League (ADISL) which consists of teams from 22 high schools and 10 junior high schools. The Ducks two sheet practice facility, Anaheim Ice, hosts hockey of all levels — including both house and travel leagues — and figure skating for all ages. Development of a new 280,000 square-foot facility featuring four practice rinks is currently underway.
Teams across the nation are teaming up with USA Hockey to develop ways to lower the price of participation and open up the game to all members of their community and one has to expect the future Seattle franchise will follow suit.
Chief Executive Officer and Team President Tod Leiweke joined Dave Mahler and Dick Fain to discuss the expansion process and the impact of a facility on the community in their new segment “Tuesdays with Tod”.
“We’re working on what we think is a potentially spectacular practice facility that will bring badly needed sheets of ice to the community,” said Leiweke. “If we do this the way we are hoping that training facility will be a place where not only folks here would go to skate but it would be center around the North West but if we do this right it would be a place where national tournaments want to come.”
He went on to state that a potential location has been targeted and that the city can expect an announcement concerning team name, colors, and logos sometime next spring.
The $30 - $50 million dollar practice facility will likely feature at least three sheets of ice and I expect they will make every attempt to help lower the costs by developing their own in-house programs and by working directly with USA Hockey to bring additional free hockey camps to the city.