When Bob Nicholson retired as head of Hockey Canada, there was praise from all over the top-end guys in hockey for the success he has had – all referring to Team Canada wins in major tournaments like the Olympics, junior and other age-group international championships.
All of that was true, of course. It was the culmination of Nicholson’s strategy to skew hockey in this country towards elite play, even year-round play for the most apparently gifted players at very young ages.
That strategy has mostly worked.
The other side to the story is that actual. “play,” has almost gone out of hockey on Nicholson’s watch. Enrollment numbers for basic hockey – house leagues in the main – have dropped and are dropping because kids and parents do not see hockey, the national sport most of us grew up to love, as any fun.
Hockey has also come to be seen as too dangerous for the limited enjoyment the focus on elite players affords to kids of “ordinary” talent.
Pair that with the cost of play and it is easy to see, not far down the road, participation in that national sport dwindling to a point where only those whose parents who foresee, rightly or wrongly, a lucrative career coming out of their childrens’ participation in the game will put in the copious amounts of time and money required for that participation to take place.
Yeah, I know, lot of, “participation,”s in that last bit. That is because that is what the game used to be about, particularly at minor levels – allowing any and every kid to enjoy playing hockey.
For a lot of those who operate hockey – and reap the financial rewards of that operation – that is not a top-of-mind issue, it is barely on the radar.
As long as there are enough elite players to staff the pro junior teams of the CHL, that will suffice for them. Other countries, some with rising participation from among the masses, will help in that regard, too.
The view that Canada sits atop, for the most part, the hockey world has some validity.
The rising view here that hockey as it is done in Canada these days is no fun and too expensive for many is also valid.
Both are Nicholson’s legacy. As with politicians and other influential figures, it is sometimes only history (our future) that tells the whole tale of their impact. In a couple of decades we will know the impact of the views of Nicholson and his colleagues on our most important sport.
Honestly, I am less than hopeful in that regard.