Grass still dominated the snow in January 2007 on the hockey rink at Parc Bourgeau in Pointe-Claire village. Mild weather and lack of snow kept Montreal area rinks unplayable for much of the winter.
Photograph by: John Mahoney, The Gazette
How many great hockey players had their passion for the sport sparked by cold winter afternoons spent playing pickup hockey on a frozen pond somewhere, skating and shooting and honing the skills they would need to go pro?
The National Hockey League would venture to guess a lot, which is why the league is worried that global warming could affect the future of hockey.
The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report, the first of its kind for the league, addresses the concrete connection between hockey and the environment, and the challenges faced by the NHL from climate change and freshwater scarcity.
The report, made public Monday night, makes it clear that the sport of hockey — perhaps more than any other sport — is affected by environmental issues.
“The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of the league’s history and culture,” says the introduction. “The game of hockey is adversely affected if this opportunity becomes unavailable to future generations.”
Recently, researchers have found a 20- to 30-per-cent decrease in the length of Canadian skating seasons over the past 50 years. In fact, Concordia University geography professor and climate-change researcher Damon Matthews has predicted there might not be any more outdoor rinks in southern Canada by 2050. And the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, the world’s largest natural frozen skating rink, has had some recent seasons cut short by mild weather.
The goal, says the NHL report, is to track and measure the impact of its business, reducing resource use where feasible, offsetting its footprint where possible and always striving to support and inspire its clubs, communities, partners, fans and employees to make a positive impact on the environment.
With annual revenue of more than $3 billion and 68 million fans in North America, the NHL is well positioned to have an impact on environmental strategy, something it already started with the creation of NHL Green, in 2010, to show its commitment to protect the environment through more sustainable business practices.
In a letter accompanying the report, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league not only wants to do what is environmentally correct, but it has a vested interest in doing so.
“Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates,” he says. “Major environmental challenges ... affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors.”
And some of the league’s world-class outdoor hockey events, like the NHL Winter Classic, require real winter weather — not slush-inducing moderate temperatures.
The report lays out what the league is already doing to address these issues, and what its future goals are.
In the report’s afterword by former goalie Mike Richter, who led the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup victory in 1994, he remembers growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia and imagining himself as a young Guy Lafleur on the frozen water.
“For me, the beauty of a frozen lake is more than free ice time; it is freedom itself,” he says.
“Here is where young players, limited only by their imagination, develop their true genius for the sport.”
He says hockey fans have much at stake and must demand the policies and changes needed to protect the environment.
“The future of our sport, and your local pond hockey game, depends on all of us.”
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