Hockey Hotbed: Illinois

growth1By Jim Clare

USA Hockey recently released their registration numbers 2013-2014 season, and they are record breaking! There were 598,841 total members, of which 519,417 were players, both records over any previous year. Those numbers represent an increase of over 9,000 players from the previous year. More importantly, there was an upward tick in 8U players (+1,005) and 14U players (+1137).  These two age groups are key indicators for growth and retention respectively. In 2008-09, there were 465,976 players registered with USA Hockey, so in 5 years we have added 53,441 players!

Here in Illinois, the outlook is bright. In the last 5 seasons we have added 8,023 players. This represents 15% of the total player growth in USA Hockey! At the 8U level, Illinois grew by 1,136 players over the previous season. Girls’ numbers in the state have grown as well, adding 165 more girls over the past season. Illinois has a total of 29,977 players, up 2,339 from the previous Fall season. This puts Illinois as the 6th largest state in USA Hockey (Pennsylvania is split into east and west, but if combined they would be 5th).

The success in growth can be traced to numerous reasons, but certainly it is no accident that it has coincided with the rise of the Blackhawks. The growth trend can be traced even further back to the placement of the Hawks home games on TV as well. The increased awareness of hockey in Illinois is a multi-faceted study in marketing and effort by numerous groups and individuals. Let’s examine a few contributing factors to the rapid rise of hockey in Illinois.

  1. Undoubtedly the success of the local NHL team has elevated the game to the mainstream. Two Stanley Cups and home games on TV have increased the visibility of hockey.
  2. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics and USA vs Canada in both Women’s and Men’s that year boosted registrations across the country. This past year, although it was played well out of our time zone, the interest was still quite high and should produce another Olympic bubble in registrations.
  3. The hiring of a Youth Hockey Director and staff by the Blackhawks. Annie Camins and her staff have done a superb job in reaching out to AHAI and our Associations to promote the game, giving our kids access to the United Center Ice for games and between period events.
  4. The partnership between AHAI and the Blackhawks, which has never been stronger, has allowed for outreach programs such as Minor Hawks and OneGoal Equipment. These programs provide low cost entry points for the kids to get involved in the game. Add in the successful Learn-to-Skate/Play programming at our local rinks and you have a recipe for growth.
  5. More and more adults are getting involved in the game as well, record numbers actually. The trickle-down effect of adults playing reaches their kids, who subsequently begin to play as well.
  6. Communications in and around AHAI has greatly improved. More people are aware of what is available and there are more opportunities to get involved than ever before. USA Hockey sponsored events such as Try Hockey for Free Days are driving kids to the rinks in Illinois. This year we had almost 1,000 kids attend Try Hockey For Free Day at 30 different rinks around the state.
  7. ADM programming such as stationed-based practice and cross-ice programming for our 6U are helping us retain these players year over year. It is no accident that those rinks and programs that implement these systems are seeing the most growth in numbers at the mite and Learn-to-Skate ages around the country.  Our local rinks and the programming they provide is top notch.
  8. Blackhawks and AHAI Rink partners have stepped up their marketing efforts as well. It takes their help and effort to drive new skaters to their rinks in order for them to make their way into the USA Hockey family. A huge shout-out to our friends at the local rink.

AHAI would like to thank all our members, rinks, partners, and parents/volunteers for helping to promote this great game of hockey. Illinois benefits from all your efforts and we greatly appreciate it. But most importantly, our youth appreciate it, for they are the real beneficiaries of all the hard work that you do.

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