TopOfTheCircle.com

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Jan. 20, 2020 — A seismic shift north of the border

I ran across a statistic the other day, one which, given the culture of the Dominion of Canada, is incredibly shocking.

The figure is that in the last few years, participation in ice hockey nationwide is down 15 percent. In Canada.

In a nation which sees ice hockey as something akin to a birthright and a sacred trust, this should be absolutely alarming — not only for Canadians, but for anyone who sees sport as something which is a democratizing force that brings people together.

But there are other larger forces which are changing the way the game of hockey is scouted, coached, and administered.

Yep, Canada is slowly going towards a pay-to-play system, which favors players from major cities and whose families are well-off.

“People used to say it was the everyman’s game, and it’s certainly not that anymore,” says Sean Fitz-Gerald, author of the new book Before The Lights Go Out. “Dave Keon doesn’t get down to the Maple Leafs from Rouyn-Noranda unless he has a skating and skills instructor when he’s 10.”

You can say the same thing about Bobby Clarke being discovered from the tiny mining town of Flin Flon, Manitoba.

Canada’s results on the world scene have not suffered — yet. The Leafs won its 18th World Junior Championship earlier this month with a 4-3 win over Russia.

But the question is, for how long?

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