NHL lockout's effects minimal at local rinks

Less than 1 percent of youths eligible to play ice hockey are even registered to play, according to Jon Weetman, the hockey director at Skate Frederick. And before the NHL and its players' association agreed to framework Sunday that would end the league's lockout, many feared that with the prolonged stoppage that number could become even smaller.

Weetman said the lockout hasn't affected the current youths playing hockey because they already love the game and will continue to play. Weetman said the lockout would most likely affect the future of youth hockey.

Because kids couldn't attend a professional hockey game or even watch one on TV, Weetman said, "the kids are not getting inspired."

The recent lockout was the NHL's second work stoppage in the past eight years. The previous lockout occurred in 2004-05, when the entire season was wiped out.

Weetman said he was fearful this time fans would not be as forgiving as the last lockout. He also worried parents would be more hesitant to sign their children up to learn ice hockey.

Weetman said there has been no drop in enrollment in Skate Frederick's youth hockey camps, clinics and league as participation numbers are up by 50. Although an agreement has been reached, Weetman is still fearful the lockout could cause a ripple effect to be felt for many years to come.

Weetman stressed that because kids were not getting inspired to begin playing hockey because of the lockout, the drop in participation of youth could be long-lasting.

Randy Dean, a coach for the Carroll County Bears Hockey Club, made up of high school players from around the county, said via email the lockout was not currently affecting his program.

"The current strike probably will not affect our program until next year as we may see a decrease of beginning level players enrolling since there [were] no NHL games being publicized," Dean said.

Scott Lowe, assistant coach of the Bantam Travel A team of Baltimore Youth Hockey Club, which practices at Reisterstown Sportsplex, said via email that due to the lockout he missed out on valuable coaching points.

"Most of our kids are big fans of the Capitals, and the NHL in general, so from a coaching perspective we can ask them if they saw a particular play during a game and if they did, use it to illustrate a point we are trying to make during practice," Lowe said.

Lowe said he has seen his players attempt to overcome the lack of professional hockey that spanned over four months.

"I can say that several of our kids seem to be watching more college hockey and now the World Junior Championships that are televised on the NHL Network," he said. "They can relate a little more to the skill level of the game and see what players who are only a few years older than them are capable of doing on the ice."

Skate Frederick and local coaches tried many different ways to combat the possible lower numbers that could have occurred in the future.

Weetman said he and others at the ice rink do their best to generate excitement, even without pro games to watch on TV. He added that USA Hockey promotes Try Hockey for Free Days throughout the year for kids to get a chance to learn about he sport.

The next day solely devoted to allowing kids to try ice hockey will take place at surrounding ice rinks on Feb. 16.

The area's rinks may never feel the effects of the lockout, but Weetman and his fellow directors and coaches aren't stopping in an attempt to promote the sport.