A Nova Scotia minor hockey league is trying to fight off a decline in membership by waiving the cost of registration for new players next season.

Glace Bay Minor Hockey Association President James Edwards said there are normally 550 players in the league. This season it dipped down to around 500.

“That’s a significant drop,” Edwards told CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore from the town of 17,000 on Cape Breton.

There was also a drop province-wide, with registrations down by more than 1,000 players from the previous year, according to preliminary figures from Hockey Nova Scotia.

Edwards said many players who sign up don’t end up paying anyway, thanks to an annual 50/50 draw fundraiser that offsets costs.

“If we can get the kids and the parents starting at an early age then they can hopefully go right through their minor hockey career playing hockey for free,” he said.

Fees for 2017-18 started at $231 for tots and went as high as $545 for bantam and midget players. That doesn’t include equipment, which costs hundreds more.

The expenses can be a big burden on families in Cape Breton, where jobs are in short supply and the unemployment rate is high.

Local midget hockey coach Ken Tracey said the costs are pushing young athletes to other leagues.

“Basketball is a big thing,” he said. “In the winter months, kids will play that because you (only) need a pair of sneakers, a pair of running shoes and a T-shirt and shorts.”

Hockey Nova Scotia is working on a five-year plan to address the decline. Ideas include shorter seasons and combining age groups.

Edwards said he’s hopeful that the free registrations will help keep up interest in a sport that brings the community together, with the latest example being a road hockey tournament planned for May 6 to raise money for the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy.

“The kids on that bus, they were on their way to a hockey game, and the best tribute that we think we can do for that team is to continue playing hockey,” he said.

With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore