The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone in hockey. From players being kept off the ice, to teams struggling to make ends meet and fans missing out on one of their favorite passions.
But the biggest toll could be the mental health one that could have long-term effects on some youth. In the most important developmental years in a person's life, being forced to stay home and not partake in activities with friends and family has been the sad reality for millions of kids across Canada.
The Ontario Minor Hockey Association – home to youth hockey in Ontario, Canada – is hoping its new campaign, Stronger, will help bring kids back to the rink. The program puts a focus on the mental health struggles faced by Canadian youth who used hockey as a sense of enjoyment and to make new friends and learn new skills.
“Hockey is as Canadian as maple syrup. It’s in our blood," OMHA executive director Ian Taylor said in a statement. "We never had to market the game before to kids in Ontario. But we recognize it is no longer a given kids are going to play hockey.
“We want the gold medal hockey games at the Winter Olympics and Paralympics to bethe most-watched events for years to come. But that may not be the case if we don’t take drastic action now.”
According to the OMHA, 80 percent of players in a 3,000-person survey said they used hockey to "reduce feelings of isolation, their stress level and anxiety." The organization also said close to 80 percent of respondents plan on returning to the game when arenas open back up in the fall.
The OMHA says registration numbers across the province have stagnated over the past five years due to barriers such as costs. The organization says many of its minor hockey associations offer programs to help out players who may not have the financial means to play the sport.
“We have worked with our sponsors to develop programs like Player and Goalie Assist so that our minor hockey associations can provide equipment every year to help families put their children in the game,” Taylor added.