Ference: NHL STREET Re-Energizes Street Hockey
Editor’s Note: Stanley Cup Champion Andrew Ference has spent his post-playing career as a Director in the NHL’s office of Social Impact, Growth, and Legislative Affairs. In a special essay, Ference explains how NHL Street is launching new youth street hockey experiences rooted in greater access and cultural relevance. More information is available at @NHLStreet on Instagram.
When we talk about hockey, we can’t limit ourselves to the version of the game that’s played on the ice. Some of the best hockey memories come from off-ice play with nothing more than a stick, a ball, and open space.
That’s all it takes to start playing street hockey, which unlocks so many fun experiences – like kids walking around their neighborhood, knocking on their friends’ doors, and throwing an impromptu game in somebody’s driveway. Where I grew up outside of Edmonton, I remember how the schoolyard’s outdoor ice rink would melt away every spring, revealing a giant piece of pavement with boards and nets where we’d all play hockey in running shoes. Even when I got to the NHL, I saw how street hockey still resonated: Players are always picking up a stick and a ball in their house or in the locker room before games, using it as a chance to get creative and try new skills.
The core of all these memories – enjoyable, accessible, and recreational engagement with hockey – is what we’re trying to capture and scale with NHL Street.
NHL STREET and RCX Sports
NHL Street is a new NHL-licensed ball hockey experience designed to appeal to today’s kids and their families with low-cost, low-pressure, and culturally relevant programming. Started in early 2022 as a partnership with RCX Sports, it will deliver a fun atmosphere and consistent gameplay model down to trusted community organizers across North America. We’ve held a few showcases at major NHL events, like NHL All-Star in Las Vegas and the Stadium Series in Nashville, and we’re excited to gear up for sustainable league play soon.
Of course, we didn’t invent a new sport with NHL Street. Street and ball hockey have been around forever. The NHL and all 32 NHL Clubs have offered various levels of street hockey programming for years (including school-based curriculum and intro kits), and the League’s foundational programs in the 1990s represented a big moment for bringing ball hockey into the mainstream. Now, though, we are ready for a new era. Our approach to NHL Street is meant to supercharge the game’s strengths and add extensions for a fresh, cool way to play under the NHL banner.
The Hockey Community
It starts with embracing street hockey’s potential to bring more kids and families into the hockey community. Think about it: We all know ice hockey requires skills that can take a while to get the hang of – which is part of what makes on-ice play so special – but street hockey allows people to jump right into the sport. Even if a child has never touched a hockey stick in their life, it might only take thirty minutes for them to figure out how to run around a court while maneuvering the ball in the right direction.
This lower barrier to entry is something we can build on – without limiting ourselves to old ideas about the game, which have often been based on the assumption that street hockey should serve as a steppingstone to ice hockey participation. Under NHL Street, street hockey’s purpose isn’t to feed into the ice hockey pathway; it’s to celebrate the value of off-ice play and promote the expansion of a more accessible form of the sport. That’s how we can increase hockey’s footprint in neighborhoods that don’t have ice rinks but do have a generation of kids who are waiting to be engaged by hockey programming.
Once those kids start playing, they’ll notice that NHL Street has its own unique culture. Our goal was to bring fun to the forefront, with original branding and merchandise that reflects youth trends; popular music as the soundtrack to gameplay; and sharable social moments in a festival-like atmosphere. And while so much of the youth sports landscape has become hyper-competitive in recent years, NHL Street is taking the opposite approach: There are no intensive practices, play calls, or x’s and o’s to memorize here. Community organizers across the country will simply set up standard programs where parents can bring their kids to play among their friends, enjoy a healthy outlet, and use hockey as a way to make life-long memories.
NHL STREET for Families
The model for competitive hockey gameplay, whether on or off the ice, will always be available elsewhere for anyone who wants it. But NHL Street is designed to cater to families who want a different type of engagement with the game – and we know their engagement will add exciting new energy to the hockey community. After all, hockey is hockey regardless of where or how it’s played. So, with enhanced programing for off-ice experiences, we’ll help hockey reach kids in cities and towns big and small, in regions that are familiar or isolated, regardless of whatever climate they live in or whether they have existing infrastructure… because NHL Street knows no boundaries.
Plus, we’ll be able to highlight the basis of what makes hockey great: From the youth level to the pros, the best thing about hockey has always been the feeling you get when you’re finding the fun in every play and sharing it with people who are united by their love for the game.
NHL Street is dedicated to that feeling. And as we roll out this new era of street hockey, I can’t wait for more kids and families to experience it than ever before.