At arenas around the north, skaters are hitting the ice for another season of hockey — but rink side conversation is once again turning to why fewer kids are signing up for the sport.

Hockey Canada is worried about research that shows many families believe hockey is too expensive and time consuming, not safe enough and not enough fun.

Kathleen Tasch

Sudbury hockey players like 12-year-old Kathleen Tasch can't wait for game day. "I'm looking forward to hanging out with my team and just making new friends with my team mates that I've never met before," she says. "It's just awesome to skate on the ice. It's just a great feeling." (Megan Thomas/CBC)

The president of the Nickel District Minor Hockey League said he's noticed a shift. Joe McColeman said more players are interested in fun house leagues than competitive rep teams.

“Committing 3-4-5 days a week might be the issue,” he said. “[And] that the game has gotten too serious.”

It's also more challenging now to get teams to travel to major tournaments like the Silver Stick in Sudbury.

Organizer Chantal Levesque said about 80 teams are expected this year — down from 100 during the busiest years.

“There's lots of kids playing,” she said. “If you go back five years it has dwindled down. If you go back 10 or 15 years it is even smaller than that. You definitely see it and people talk about it.”

With the aim of fostering more fun and affordability in the sport, Hockey Canada is testing out a new program called Grow The Game in Hamilton and Scarborough.

McColeman said teams in the north are already making similar adjustments.

“I think people realize that that's part of the problem,” he said.

“You know you don't have the hard-nosed coaches anymore that push and push the kids. Everybody realizes there should be a lot of fun in the sport.”