(Photo by Hockey Canada)

Hockey is far more than just a sport in Canada. It is a part of our 150-year-old history and integrated with our national identity. People from different walks of life share the same feeling for the sport. The fast-paced, physical sport aligns with the rugged, pioneer spirit that has existed since the early days of the founding members of this northern country.

The number of Canadian hockey players under 18-years-old registered with Hockey Canada is close to 650,000. More than 1.1 million males aged 15-years and older report playing hockey. And the overall hockey participation continues to grow in this country at 1.5 percent per year.

Hockey Canada is not in place to create a pipeline of talent for the NHL, rather it is to provide opportunities for a broad range of young people. But as we know, some parents and youngsters alike are drawn to hockey with the dream of playing in the professional ranks someday. To reach that goal takes plenty of non-stop practice and a constant focus on one’s nutritional needs for one to turn pro.

Hockey can be an expensive sport but there are a number of organizations, both non-profit and corporate doing their part to ensure that our sport remains accessible. The Montreal Canadiens have built ten community rinks through their Bleu Blanc Bouge program. These outdoor, refrigerated rinks are built to NHL standards “helping underprivileged youth to be active.”

Partnering with Hockey Canada and Hockey Quebec, first and second grade children are given the chance to participate in learn-to-skate programs on Bleu Blanc Bouge rinks. Canadian Tire Jumpstart charity is also involved in these programs to teach skating and basic hockey skills to hundreds of children.

Hockey de Rue is another example of a program ensuring the accessibility of hockey to everyone. It is a street hockey tournament that recently raised $240,000 benefiting underprivileged children in Montreal. The event is coordinated by the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation and the YM-YWCA.

Jumpstart is not the only program supported by Canadian Tire that gives opportunities in sports to kids from families in financial need. The First Shift, in partnership with Canadian Tire, Bauer and Hockey Canada, is a program “designed to ensure a positive experience for new-to-hockey families by offering a program that is accessible, affordable, safe and most importantly, fun.” ScotiaBank, RBC, Kraft and Tim Horton’s have their own well-know programs supporting minor hockey in Canada.

For its part, Hockey Canada is in place to “lead, develop and promote positive hockey experiences” throughout the lives of Canadians. It’s extensive work to develop and grow the game through its numerous programs for participants, coaches and officials ensures that our national tradition, the game of hockey, will be well-represented around the world.