When Hockey Canada announced recently that its youngest players will play on smaller ice surfaces, New Brunswick was ahead of the game.
The province has long required children five and six years old to play on modified ice, where coaches put dividers across a rink to create more than one playing surface.
"From a development perspective, it's beneficial to share the ice," said Nick Boudreau, the co-ordinator of technical programs with Hockey New Brunswick. "From a game perspective, it's simply age appropriate."
Boudreau said the modified-ice rule came into effect in New Brunswick 10 to 15 years ago.
The new cross-Canada regulation will be put in place for the 2017-2018 season and will mandate all players to receive "age-appropriate programming" on cross-ice or half-ice surfaces.
In New Brunswick, Boudreau said the practice came about out of necessity, especially in Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton, where a lot of players were competing for a fixed amount of ice.
"There's a lot of four, five, six-year-olds that want to play hockey and ice time is hard to come by," he said.
With modified ice, arenas can handle about three games at a time.
Beneficial to share ice
Boudreau also said modified ice allows hockey coaches to teach younger players new techniques, while correcting old ones.
"Everything you do is in an enclosed area and you want to be able to perform those skills with people around you," he said.
He said both Hockey New Brunswick and Hockey Canada are always coming up with new ways to teach young kids to develop those physical literacy skills.
"You would never put a five- or six-year-old child on a full-size soccer pitch, or expect them to play basketball without any adjustments made for their size," said Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada in a media release. "Hockey is no different."
But the ultimate goal is to recruit and help young players fall in love with the game and learn proper techniques in the meantime.
"If they really enjoy playing hockey at that age, they're going to stick with it," Boudreau said.