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League, corporate partners increase emphasis on getting more youth to play the sport

League, corporate partners increase emphasis on getting more youth to play the sport

By Chris Botta, Correspondent

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While the financial health of the NHL in Canada is strong, the biggest concern for the sport is the participation numbers in youth ice hockey, which are down 30 percent in recent years.

“The cost of entry has become prohibitive. It’s on everyone in position to help,” said True North Sports & Entertainment Executive Chairman Mark Chipman.

As a result, NHL corporate partners have made the promotion and support of youth hockey programs in Canada a key part of their strategy. For example, the “Scotiabank Skaters” contest each year gives children the opportunity to skate on to the ice with NHL players prior to the national anthems. Scotiabank also has provided financial support to 8,000 youth teams in the country.

Kraft Foods’ well-regarded Hockeyville program honors a Canadian town each year for its commitment to youth hockey by giving the local rink an NHL preseason game and a $100,000 grant for renovations. Since 2006, Kraft has given $3.4 million to 88 communities across Canada.

Now in its third season, the Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour has visited 60 communities across Canada — bringing Sportsnet anchors to small towns to host pregame, intermission and postgame NHL shows at the site. Local NHL alumni, entertainment and memorabilia are also part of the tour.

“In Canada, hockey is not a professional sport or a pastime — it’s a totally ingrained part of the culture,” said Sportsnet’s Scott Moore, who grew up in Toronto and Montreal. “As a child, the center of my universe was the local arena. I was not the world’s greatest hockey player, but from 6 a.m. Saturday until 6 p.m. Sunday, I was at the rink. It was the center of my social life. It is a crucial part of the Canadian identity, and that never will change.”
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