As registration in minor hockey leagues slows, Ottawa hockey leagues are expanding their offerings for older players who are interested in getting involved in the game.
The Ottawa Senators, which have run a continually expanding league at their Bell Sensplex facility for the past 10 years, are looking to replicate that feat at the new facility they are planning to open in the east end.
The team wanted to make ice time for minor hockey leagues the priority when it opened the Kanata facility in the early 2000s, said Andy Bryan, the director of hockey programs with the Senators.
That remains the case today, but increasingly the team has looked to senior hockey leagues to fill vacant ice times such as late at night and during the day when kids are at school, he said.
“While minor hockey rates might be relatively stagnant as far as registration numbers in Canada go, adult hockey continues to grow,” said Mr. Bryan. “We see that very clearly in the way that our own league here has grown.”
The Senators’ senior hockey league has gone from about 22 teams a decade ago to about 108 at the Kanata facility this year, he said.
Mr. Bryan said the team sees a lot of growth coming from groups that weren’t traditionally big hockey players.
“You’ll get new Canadians, there’s hockey moms that are getting involved in the game later on in years that may not have played minor hockey growing up,” he said. “One of the areas where you see more growth than any is at those lower tier divisions.”
The women’s league has also seen a bump, he said.
In late 2013, the team began accepting applications for the new league in the east end. It will also be rolled in with the old league in Kanata under a new, more formal, banner: the Ottawa Senators Adult Hockey League.
However, the Senators aren’t the only group that’s moved in to help fill that growing demand. The Ottawa Travellers Hockey League bills itself as one of the largest in the capital, while the Ottawa Senior Men’s League has dozens of teams as part of leagues in both the east and west end.
Mr. Bryan said he isn’t worried about the market getting saturated any time soon, but nevertheless tries to differentiate the Senators’ league by leveraging its connection to the NHL franchise.
The team gives access to Senators tickets for team reps in addition to other team-related prizes. This has the added bonus, he said, of further helping to build the team’s brand in the community.
The league also places a big emphasis on ensuring a safe environment that allows participants to play hockey in their spare time but still remain healthy to go to work and see their families, he said.
He said the Senators are aiming to have 80 to 90 teams for the new league, which he expected will begin play later in 2014.
Construction on the Richcraft Sensplex east project, which will be located on Shefford Road in Gloucester, began last year.