MONTREAL — A committee tasked by the Quebec government with boosting Quebecers' interest in hockey says the sport should be cheaper to play so that lower-income and immigrant families can more easily participate.
Hockey should also become Quebec's "national sport," Marc Denis, former Montreal Canadiens goalie and head of the committee, said Thursday.
After seeing the outpouring of grief earlier this week during the national funeral of Canadiens great Guy Lafleur, the love Quebecers have for the game is clear, he added.
"If we still had doubts, the last few days have proven to us to what extent hockey is truly our national sport."
Last November, Premier François Legault tasked Denis to come up with ways to increase Quebecers' interest in hockey and to grow the number of Quebecers in the NHL. Legault lamented at the time that there were fewer young people in the province interested in hockey compared with prior generations.
Denis said that while increasing the number of Quebecers in the NHL wasn't his main goal, the steps outlined in his report give more Quebecers a path to the major league.
"Yes, we think that if the recommendations are applied, there will be more Quebecers in the National Hockey League, but that wasn't the main objective," he said.
"The main objective was that there are more (players), that they're better supported, that they have a better environment, that they remain attached to hockey for a longer time, and that this way we give them the best chances."
Quebec’s minister responsible for sports said the government wouldn't shelve the report released Thursday, but she wouldn't say which of its recommendations would be adopted.
"It's the first step," Isabelle Charest said. "The next step is to sit down with all the partners to establish a game plan and to see what these recommendations would cost, what's applicable now, and when and how."
There was no dollar value attached to any of the recommendations. Denis said that wasn't part of the committee's mandate.
One way the government could make the game more affordable is by introducing tax credits, Denis said. Doing so, he added, would make the game more accessible to new immigrants. He said more of an effort should be made to support hockey in Indigenous communities.
The report says promoting women's hockey is a priority and that equitable resources should be provided to male and female hockey programs. It also calls for more women in leadership roles at the province's hockey federation.
The committee also recommended that Quebec establish a national women's hockey team, as well as a national team for 17-year-olds and for para hockey players. It called for the government to fund university hockey, establish a university hockey league and create hockey bursaries for student-athletes.
Other recommendations include adding skating lessons to school gym classes, creating a registry of hockey infrastructure across the province and building more rinks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2022.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press