By any measurement, Hockey Nova Scotia can look back over the past few months with a sense of accomplishment.
Sure, there will always be areas of complaint or contention within any high-profile provincewide sport organization following another season of play.
But the Nova Scotia hockey season that has recently ended for most players and organizers has again seen improvements to the sport across the province.
“There’s been a real focus from the (Hockey Nova Scotia) board on how to make the game more accessible and attractive,” said executive director Darren Cossar, who is quick to cite the board’s support for the many positive changes in the minor game.
“We have to recruit new players and parents to the game and retain the ones we have. The (registered participation) numbers are slightly decreasing. That’s concerning. Our goal is to try and maintain and to grow.”
The challenge — for the board, the staff and the many volunteers connected to Hockey Nova Scotia — has been identifying the problems that can be fixed and then creating workable solutions.
For example, the cost of participating in minor hockey has probably been one of the most consistent problems for families with average or below-average income.
“Hockey is an expensive sport,” conceded Cossar, who undoubtedly often hears that complaint in a province where many families don’t have extra disposable income for sports.
“But, there are options,” said Cossar, citing the different levels of participation created by the organization as an example of one of the answers to the cost dilemma.
“It can be done cheaper,” he said, thanks to new programs built around reducing the cost factor, especially for new players.
“Not everyone has to play three times a week or play competitively. It’s about providing more options.”
Hockey Nova Scotia has more than 18,000 registered players — a figure helped by the addition of adult recreation players and new programs. Basically, the group is holding its own in terms of total registrations.
Those who believe most of the emphasis is directed toward the elite levels of the game might be surprised to know that elite hockey doesn’t demand nearly the attention of the various levels below it.
“I spend the majority of my time on the 16,000 players who are not elite,” said Cossar. “The elite hockey takes care of itself.”
He sees many more opportunities for potential growth in the sport.
Growing the female hockey sector and specifically the creation of the first female association, the work with Sport Nova Scotia in stressing the long-range value of multi-sport participation, the start of a new provincewide minor midget hockey league and the strong promotion of sledge hockey are recent examples of such efforts.
And, though the willingness to offer a place where school team players could continue in the game after labour problems threatened their season might not significantly change future registration numbers, it does help cement Hockey Nova Scotia’s leadership role for the sport.
The efforts on these newest projects during the past year were taking place at the same time work continued on older themes. Trying to keep the cost down for players at the recreation level and emphasizing the fun aspect of the game in innovative ways are goals now embedded in the system but also ones that no doubt require constant monitoring.
The target, in a province often now cited nationally for its innovative minor hockey policies, really never changes.
“Everything is (about) how can we get more kids and families playing at all levels,” said Cossar of the many projects.
“We want to make it easier for families to participate.”
Cossar quickly lists off a series of projects and goals — some already started and others that will be new — with great enthusiasm. It’s obvious the aggressive path taken by Hockey Nova Scotia toward reducing the hurdles to overall growth won’t be abandoned by those presently calling the shots.
“Nobody is content,” he said of Hockey Nova Scotia’s efforts to reach its potential.
“Right now it (the goal) is going to be improving on what we’ve got. We’ll continue to keep pushing, with a strategic direction.”