Ice hockey continues to be a popular team sport in the United States, with more than one million people associated with the sport’s governing body, USA Hockey. “We’re fortunately one of the sports programs in the country that has been growing at a time when it seems like everybody has challenges just to retain people,” said Mike Bertsch, assistant executive director of communications, marketing and events for USA Hockey. “We’ve exceeded 600,000 participating members and well over a million people—players, coaches, officials, volunteers, parents, etc.—counting everyone associated with USA Hockey.
Those numbers have gone up since last year. “We’ve shown participant growth in just about every category including kids and adults, girls and women,” Bertsch said. “We can attribute that in no small part to a great group of volunteers all across the country who are passionate hockey people who are doing everything they can to expose the sport and provide opportunities for kids to try our game.” Youth participation has definitely been one of the key elements in the continuing popularity of ice hockey.
“We have a program called Try Hockey for Free Days where kids are invited to the rink at no cost and with equipment provided,” Bertsch said. “We also have a membership development department that’s been in place for about five years. They’ve done a super job helping volunteers get new kids to try the game.”
Statistics from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) also indicate stability for participation in the sport of hockey for that age range. NFHS stats for years 2009/2010- 2013/2014 show a very steady, if not steadily growing, participation by boys and girls in high school hockey.
Bertsch also noted the support from the NHL, college hockey and youth organizations in “putting a positive focus on USA Hockey” and for driving growth in participation rates for the sport.
Event Hosting Opportunities
The International World Championships, at least one of which is usually held in the United States, and the Youth Nationals are the biggest events for hockey in the United States, according to Bertsch. “The Youth Nationals work from an RFP and are usually decided a year or two in advance,” he explained. “Those are presented to the USA Hockey Youth Council for consideration by associations that have existing hockey programs. Our most valued international programs are IIHF championships and the International Paralympic Championships. The latter typically runs for 10 to 14 days in late April through early May. For the past five years, we have hosted at least one international world championship event in the United States and we’re slated to do the same for at least the next three years.”
Bertsch said the 2017 Women’s World Championships venue has not yet been decided, nor has the 2018 World Junior Championships, the biggest of all, according to Bertsch. The latter went up to bid recently and Bertsch urges interested parties to contact USA Hockey.
As for USA Hockey’s other national championships, Bertsch said venues for next year have already been selected and the 2017 event locale will be decided in June. Typically, championship tournaments are five-day events in late March/early April.
Some USA Hockey-sponsored competitions have up to 60 teams with 20 members per team, Bertsch said, adding that others may have as few as 16 teams. The difference, he said, is often dependent upon what age group a host city has gone after.
“There’s no restriction regarding size of the community. It’s more about direct accommodation for the number of games the teams are going to play,” Bertsch said. “The most important thing is just a strong volunteer structure to make sure a competition is accommodated successfully in terms of supporting the teams that come in. There is a wide range of teams from all over the country.”
Bertsch said that district competitions, which have their own championships that lead to the national championships, are handled by USA Hockey’s district affiliates, typically a youth hockey organization. USA Hockey has 12 districts.