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Roller hockey is a great way to grow the game of hockey, especially in areas where access to ice is limited. As someone who lives in an area where there’s only one sheet of ice (which is unfortunately under threat) and hockey isn’t as popular compared to other sports, roller hockey can introduce hockey to people who aren’t familiar with the sport or have limited access to ice.
Ice time is a major expense in hockey, an already expensive game, and the growth of roller hockey, supported by the NHL, can make hockey more accessible.
According to a study conducted by the Aspen Institute, the average cost for a child to play ice hockey is $2,583 (Price breakdown: $634 in registration fees, $389 for equipment, $829 in travel costs, $389 for lessons, $302 for camps).
Not everyone can afford this price.
The average cost to play roller hockey is $100-$200 for the season, including fees and equipment. The NHL promoting roller hockey would also help with diversifying the game because some of the socioeconomic barriers that prevent people from accessing ice hockey are removed.
In my interview with Blake Erquiaga from the Tropical Hockey League, he mentioned that people are “more likely to run into a native Spanish speaker or a visible minority playing roller hockey, just because it's so much more accessible.”
The NHL extending their impact, influence, and reach into roller hockey would help both ice and roller hockey in a significant way.
Nathaniel Mata from RGV Roller agrees. “I think the NHL branding themselves into roller hockey would be a happy partnership,” Mata said. “I don't think these leagues have to choose between grassroots ice hockey, grassroots roller hockey, and grassroots ice hockey Learn to Play programs. All these things should be complementary to each other because if we want to grow the game, that's three opportunities to do it instead of just one or two...''
''If they care about ice hockey, they should care about growing hockey at the grassroots level and roller hockey is a big part of growing that. It's all leading to the same place. It's all getting eyes on the sport and that's really important at this time.”
The NHL recently started a youth street hockey program called NHL STREET. The goal of NHL STREET is to “provide kids and their families the best of what youth sports can be: having fun, staying active, making friends, and creating great memories” through street hockey.
The NHL is already recognizing that hockey is an expensive sport and since street hockey uses less equipment and can be played on any surface, they’re leading the charge to make hockey more affordable and accessible. The NHL even mentions the benefits of playing street hockey, which include less physical contact than ice hockey, an easy time commitment to fit into someone’s schedule, the physical and health benefits of playing a sport, and using a team structure to build self-confidence and socialization among players. The NHL could replicate this model with roller hockey. In order for the NHL to expand into roller hockey, the league would not need to create a roller hockey program from scratch; rather, the league could simply add a roller hockey component to their existing street hockey program to appeal to those who can roller skate and those who want to learn how to roller skate and play roller hockey.
Roller hockey isn’t exactly the same as ice hockey and that’s a good thing. Roller hockey doesn’t involve body checking and there are four skaters instead of five but the fun of the game is still there. Roller hockey is a rising area of hockey that’s sometimes overshadowed by ice hockey. Although roller hockey is not the one-size fits all solution to growing the game or changing issues within hockey, it’s another way for people to access the game. Roller hockey might not create the next Connor McDavid but it might help create the next generation of hockey fans because of its accessibility. Roller hockey is unique in its own way and its uniqueness is the thing that makes it so special; maybe the NHL should tap into that.