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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Drawn Off Topic

MP Marc Garneau on grassroots hockey Add to ...

Former astronaut Marc Garneau was the first Canadian in space, participating in three NASA space shuttle missions. He currently serves as MP for the Quebec constituency of Westmount-Ville-Marie.

Did you play organized hockey as a boy?

I played hockey until I was about 12, and then our family moved to England. So it dried up a little bit and I had to find other things, like soccer and rugby.

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Do your kids play hockey?

I’m a hockey dad. I have some grown-up kids. One of them is 35 and he played hockey. I took him to the rink. I have two kids now, 12 and 15, and they were very engaged, but they are drifting away as well.

Do you know what a decent kid’s hockey stick costs?

I do. They can go from a plain-Jane wooden stick to sticks that cost hundreds of dollars. It’s a peer pressure issue. If someone really wants to play hockey, they can be persuaded that there is not that much difference if their hockey stick is not super-duper, really cool and the best. Branding and imaging are very important.

A recent study found that, at a grassroots level, boys’ participation in organized hockey in Canada is decreasing. In other countries, notably the United States, it’s rising. Is this a crisis, or just part of the natural evolution of the country?

It is part of the evolution. We have good infrastructure in this country to encourage people, to bring them up through. But other countries are getting very enthusiastic. If the interest is there, it is going to build and we may fade a little bit. How do you get people to play if they don’t want to play?

The study found “cost” as the most significant factor for kids – or parents - dropping out. A majority felt there should be more corporate financial involvement to help keep costs down. Should there be?

Corporations will get involved if there is a good business case for them, it gives them great publicity. You can’t force them to get involved, either. I’m not surprised that people feel that corporations should step in and help with paying some of the expenses, but wishful thinking is not going to do it.

Municipal rinks are feeling budget restraints, and costs for ice time are rising for parents. The government funds culture. Should it be more heavily funding something as core culture as ice time for kids’ hockey?

As I remember, there was the centennial ice-rink project back when we were celebrating our centennial [1967]and the government thought that was a good idea. The local hockey rink is very much the centre of a community.

We like to feel that hockey is Canada’s game and we’re the best in the world at it. Suppose this grassroots abandonment continues to the detriment of our hockey development and Canada slips as a hockey nation to the second tier – say on a par with France. Would that be a tragedy?

That will be hard for Canada, accompanied by people exhorting everybody to get more serious about it, to have more professional development, to develop our future hockey stars. I think that will come out in the process if that actually happens.

Would it be such a terrible thing if, due to costs or changing demographics, Canada declined as a hockey power and we came on internationally in, say, soccer?

I don’t think the country would fall apart. Some people would remember the glory days and wish they were there. It is part of an evolution, but I don’t think it will happen without a fight. I think we really do want to hold on to our image as being the best in the world. When we do lose at big international tournaments, we say: “We have to work harder for next time.”

Let’s say the funding comes, either from government or through corporate involvement, and cost ceases to be an issue. To keep enrolment levels high, new Canadians would need to be encouraged to embrace the game. Can anything be done? Should anything be done?

I don’t think it should be included in their “Welcome to Canada” material. Kids and their parents pick it up through osmosis. In some cases, new arrivals come from countries where they play hockey, but if they come from, say, northern Africa, they don’t play hockey. It is totally foreign to them.

Should a few hockey questions be included in any citizenship test – “What is a neutral zone trap?” Or might prospective Canadians be tested for the ability to stickhandle or skate backward?

There are a lot of important things we want people to pick up when the come into the country. I don’t think we should go that far.

Can you stickhandle or skate backward?

Not very well …

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