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Hockey night's all right

Ask someone to name the good things we have in Canada, and they may come up with anything from maple syrup to public health care, but chances are hockey's on the list. Now a study conducted by Charlton Strategic Research for Canadian Tire and Scotiabank confirms what junior coaches and dedicated hockey moms have suspected for years: hockey builds character, and Canadians can't get enough of it.

This study is the first part of a multi-phase, nationwide analysis of the impact of hockey within Canada. A later stage will look into the economic impacts of community hockey, and the two organizations will use the information they collect to direct the focus of their corporate support for the game over the next few seasons.

"In the fall, hockey bubbles up at top of mind for our customers," says John Doig, Chief Marketing Officer for Scotiabank. With branches in communities across Canada, it makes sense for the bank not only to sponsor professional teams but community hockey as well, he says.

"From a commercial marketing side, we sponsor the National Hockey League; we have a team deal with each of the Canadian NHL teams, and we're the official bank of the NHL alumni," he says. Scotiabank has named arenas in Markham, Whitby and Milton, Ontario, not to mention the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. They are involved with the Canadian Women's Hockey League, sponsor several provincial-level teams and provide grassroots programs that make it easier for parents to get their kids on the ice.

"Doing the sponsorship deal with a major sporting league like the NHL is a great national podium to stand upon, but the great goal for us was to tie that in with youth minor-league hockey," says Doig. "We started a program a number of years ago where every branch in our country was going out looking to sponsor hockey teams, so now we sponsor over 5,000 minor-league hockey teams across Canada. We couldn't be more proud; we have 100% branch participation."

When Scotiabank was beginning its hockey sponsorship programs, the bank conducted some research, but "this is our first study in partnership with Canadian Tire. Our focus is really understanding where minor hockey is growing; if there are challenges in that space, is there anything we can do to support it?" Doig says.

The study, which surveyed 2,000 Canadian adults last August, found that during the hockey season, Canadians spend about seven hours a week engaging with hockey, whether that means playing it themselves, watching it on television, coaching or participating in some other way. It also shows that Canadians overwhelmingly prefer hockey to other major-league sports, and 18% of households with children have at least one child in hockey this year.

"I think one of the most powerful things that it says loudly is how Canadians have that clear appreciation of the values that are taught in hockey," says Doig. "That's what we saw in spades in the stats that came across." Survey respondents said hockey promotes numerous values in children, including teamwork (identified by 82% of those surveyed), fun (78%), hard work (77%), commitment (76%) and discipline (75%). They also said they appreciated the sport's health benefits.

Former NHL player Cory Cross, who coached for four years at the University of Calgary and now coaches his six-year-old son's league, would agree. "I'm a big proponent of teams and playing for your team. I think it's second to none," he says. "You learn life lessons playing minor hockey: to work hard, set a goal, teamwork, time management, dedication, hard work, sportsmanship and building friendships."

After 27 years, Cross still meets up once a year with his teammates from his minor hockey days in Lloydminster, Alberta. "Those guys are still my best friends, and we've continued to do a yearly trip," he says.

The game is also important to newcomers arriving in Canada, says Stan Papulkas, who organizes the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships each year, a playoff with high-calibre players who join up in teams representing their own cultural backgrounds for a charity showdown at Chesswood Arena in North York each December.

The CMHC grew out of the idea of broadcasting multicultural hockey on OMNI Television, where Papulkas was a producer, but "once word got around, more and more communities got involved," he says. Ten years on, more than 35 cultures, including several Aboriginal communities, have been represented.

"The game of hockey needs to be able to bring us together as Canadians," says Papulkas. He's partly hoping to develop players from more diverse backgrounds in the sport, but he's also interested in the bigger picture. "Putting it all together, you have the idea of putting people on the same playing field as a society," he says. "There are cultural differences and political differences, but in the game of hockey, there are no differences."
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