During hockey season, the rink can often feel like a second home to players, parents and countless others. 

When the pandemic forced many rinks to close their doors, USA Hockey was unsure what the future might hold. But just a few years later, it’s no secret that there’s still no place like home. 

Not only are kids coming back to lace their skates — they’re flocking to rinks in droves. 

“Based on some number-crunching, we weren't expected to return to pre-pandemic numbers for about five seasons,” said Katie Holmgren, Director, Program Services at USA Hockey. “But already this season, we're ahead of our growth from before the pandemic.”

Despite setbacks that rinks may have faced during the pandemic, their resilience has helped USA Hockey welcome skaters back to the ice.

 “A lot of rinks found a way to keep going and got creative, just like other people had to,” Holmgren said. “The pandemic certainly had an impact on the game, but we're happy that people are coming back.”

Crunching the numbers

As registration numbers continue to grow, USA Hockey pays close attention to every detail. 

“We crunch data every year, which is not unique to our support, but we’re heavily focused on it,” Holmgren said. “That can change what we do with certain areas and see how we apply it to every area of the country.”

That data provides insight as to where it might see growing registration numbers in upcoming seasons. Not only is hockey popular in areas like Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan, it’s also growing in areas some may not expect. 

“Other areas that we used to call nontraditional — maybe like California or Texas and those kinds of areas — that's actually more traditional now because they had to work a little bit harder,” Holmgren said. 

USA Hockey places a large emphasis on developing 8U players — where it builds the base of its program. 

“If you don't start at the grassroots level, then you don't see the numbers at the higher levels,” Holmgren said. “The last season we finished was our fourth-ever highest total of 8 and under players for USA hockey.”

Girls around the country are also lacing their skates and shooting the puck — a testament to role models who know the significance of making hockey accessible to everyone. 

“More girls are playing sports than ever, and a lot of that goes to the success of our women's national team and also their grassroots efforts,” Holmgren said. “They know the importance of those girls seeing what they're doing. That’s huge.”

Putting in the effort

USA Hockey’s growth doesn’t come without strong effort on its part. It’s focused on player development, safety and age-appropriate training at all levels.

“We also know the importance of the lessons that you learn in hockey,” Holmgren said. “It’s not just what hockey is itself, but I think we've changed the perception of hockey. Beyond just the physicality, people are seeing what a cool, unique sport it is and how fun it really is. Our emphasis is on how much fun the kids are having.”

Even beyond kids having fun, USA Hockey is doing its part to ensure coaches and officials are thriving. 

“Our coach development group has totally revamped their program on how we educate our coaches and really how they're reaching people. We’ve got a ton of support for our youth program and administrators. So it's not just a focus on the coaches and players, but also a focus on treating officials right, which is a problem at every youth sport. Hockey is definitely not immune to that.”

There’s no place like home

From practices to games to community skating events — rinks are a significant part of helping local associations and programs flourish. 

“I would encourage rinks to build a good relationship with their hockey association and recognize that we're all in it for the same reasons,” Holmgren said. “We want to fill that ice and we know how special it is once you're part of the hockey family.”

Holmgren also emphasized the importance of utilizing the resources that groups like USA Hockey have to advertise and educate players, parents, coaches and officials.

The impact a local rink can have on a community is unmatched. 

“We know that people aren't typically going to want to drive long distances to play hockey,” Holmgren said. “So we know that it's important for rinks to be accessible, so somewhere close that individuals can play — because then it really does feel like a community piece. We see that in places where they are more densely populated. It really becomes part of the community, and you talk about your home rink for the rest of your life. And so often, that has to do with the rink being in your area.” 

Published on October 25, 2022

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