By Mackenzie Myatt
Declining participation in the Eastern Shore Minor Hockey Association (ESMHA) has prompted another proposal to officially partner or merge with the Cole Harbour Minor Hockey Association. The issue is likely to be a topic of debate at the ESMHA’s Annual General Meeting on Sunday, May 26that 6:30pm in the Bingo Hall.
Keeping rural sports teams going is always a challenge, but hockey in particular has been struggling. This is not a new or unique problem to Nova Scotia—but the provincial trend is worse than the national average. Hockey Canada’s 2018-19 Annual Report shows a gradual but steady decline in registration over the past 10 years, but especially the last three. Hockey Canada’s numbers have dropped by 2% since 2013, while Hockey Nova Scotia is down by 11%.
Danny Cole is leading a group called “Parents for a Cole Harbour and Eastern Shore Hockey Alliance,” including active discussions on a Facebook site. He has been researching the number of players at different levels, and how many go to Cole Harbour already to play at a higher level of competition. In a Facebook post, Cole pointed out that because the ESMHA teams were only about 90% full on the average, there was, “less revenue per team for the Association. Revenue that could be spent on ice time, outside coaches and other development. It also increases the fundraising burden per player and often leads to uncompetitive teams.”
Dale Stienburg, Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Recreation Committee, told the Cooperatorthat the possibility of merging with Cole Harbour has come up before, but has never made it past initial negotiations. Stienburg has a few substantive suggestions about how to get more kids to come out for hockey, starting with decreasing the cost of registration to make hockey more accessible.
He thought ESMHA might take a bit more risk by trying higher levels of competition, and give kids the opportunity to rise to the occasion. He pointed out that the Eastern Shore has produced very high-quality players and teams in the past, so the potential was there.
And he wondered whether teams should be booking more ice team in order to give players the many hours of practice needed to master such a complex sport. He said last year none of the teams booked any extra ice time for practice other than the two practices a week that were included in the registration fee.