Do I play hockey? Not yet. I'm still learning how to skate. Trust me, this is difficult enough.
I love my skating lessons, though, and I'm pretty sure my teacher is the best teacher ever, even though what she calls my "process of self-discovery" often seems like nothing more than the discovery of my total inability to process that crazy move she just showed me!
Seriously, though, I could start taking some learn-to-play classes anytime now. You don't need to be a great skater to play in a novice league. What you do need is time and money. Your time - those slivers of the day that aren't already spoken for - needs to align with the time the classes are held and the games are played (often late at night for adults). Your money must be plentiful enough so that you can buy the gear (you need full gear even to just learn to play - those pucks are hard!) and to pay for the classes and, eventually, to pay league fees or dues.
Still, I could learn to play if I made it a priority. Unfortunately, though, a lot of people can't. Especially in places where playing hockey depends on artificial ice - which, thanks to global climate change, is pretty much everywhere these days - hockey is a very expensive game.
Luckily, there are forces in the sport that are working for more inclusivity, trying to "grow the game," as they say, by giving away time and money (i.e., volunteering and donating equipment and ice time) to programs that teach kids who otherwise wouldn't even have the chance to try hockey.
For example, check out this photo montage of one such program in Washington, DC, on a day when NHL players Donald Brashear, Wayne Simmonds and Willie O'Ree came to work with the kids. It must have been seriously inspiring for those young people!
You can't fall in love with the game unless you have the chance to try it. And the game won't thrive without the influx of thousands of young people, inspired to devote countless hours of skating and sweat to playing this awesome game!
P.S. Because ice is so expensive, and because government funding for recreational facilities is often hard to come by, we turn to creative solutions. But they aren't always perfect. Here's an interesting update on the situation at Ft. Dupont, the rink pictured in the photo montage noted above.