A hockey club in Toronto is rethinking the way youth sports are organized. TOP sports is the name and their aim is a different type of hockey season.

“A hockey season that allows for your family life and your kids life to include other things other than hockey,” says Luke Earl, Co-founder of TOP Sports.

The name TOP Sports speaks to their philosophy, Earl says. It is an acronym, standing for “The Other Path.”

Earl played college hockey at Yale and later professionally. Originally from Connecticut, he now lives in Toronto and was surprised to see how youth hockey was played when his son joined the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

“It dominated not his life, but our family’s life,” he says.

His young son played over 60 games in that first year, and Earl started to track the time commitment. He figured that a typical game took 3 hours from the time you leave the house until the time you return. When tracking his son’s actual playing time, “he is only skating for 10 minutes and touching the puck for around 10 to 15 seconds,” he says.

Creating TOP Sports in 2017, the idea was to help foster passion in sport while creating a schedule that works for families. The hope is that the experience will help kids love the sport.

“We want the kid to choose the sport. We want the kid to fall in love with the sport,” he says.

At TOP sports kids play about 20 games a year, but practice 60 times making enjoyment and improvement the priority.

Some of the over 100 players here came from the Greater Toronto Hockey League. Ben Fletcher is one of them, he says that he is “definitely a better hockey player here. The coaches are great. Ya I think it’s just all round, I like the environment here.”

The schedule is consistent. Teams practice on the same nights each week. The entire slate of games are scheduled months in advance, allowing families to plan around hockey.

“I think it’s great. I like playing multiple sports,” Fletcher says.

TOP Sports has also grown to include Soccer and Lacrosse leagues designed to allow kids like Fletcher to play all three sports with no scheduling conflicts.

At their head office in Leaside, co-founder and executive director Ian Mackenzie says variety is key. Adding, “our belief is the best all round athlete ultimately in the long run becomes the best single sport athlete.”

While the concept of TOP sports may be catching on with parents and players, they are finding some resistance from some traditional clubs that is limiting their ability to play against other teams.

Top Sports plays in the Ontario Rep Hockey League with teams across Ontario. Many of their games are on weekend tournaments to help with travel. They would like to play against local teams but cannot play against teams in the GTHL.

In response, the GTHL said in a statement, in part: “There are programs that exist that are not members of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF), and/or Hockey Canada (HC). Programs that are members are only permitted to participate against other members.”

Hockey Canada said they have “no regulatory authority over unsanctioned hockey programs and therefore would not be able to insure players within its minor hockey system if they were to participate in such game play.”

They also said there is “no way of ensuring that unsanctioned programs implement many of the fundamental safeguards inherent in Hockey Canada programs.”

Mackenzie says TOP sports has insurance, but “it’s very simple, you’re either in or you’re out and if you’re out, you don’t have an option of being in.”

He says Hockey Canada will not allow other clubs in Toronto to become sanctioned.

“If you’re not within the GTHL, there is no option to be sanctioned,” he says. There’s no way you can get sanctioned. There’s nothing that we can apply for. There’s no checklist that we could provide.”