World Hockey Summit Day 2: Junior Player and Skill Development

Day 2 at the World Hockey Summit was focused on player and skill development and the development of junior hockey internationally. The two sessions were run by Bob McKenzie and Jim Hughson respectively and each were filled with a lot of meaningful content and analysis. While the content was good and insightful the interesting thing will be to see what action is taken on the talks but before I get into that let me recap some of the big things discussed.

The morning focused on issues of player retention and safety in junior hockey. The safety stuff we’ve all heard before but the interesting fact I walked away with was that in the US, the average hockey player leaves the sport at the age of nine. If the future of the sport is to progress in our neighbour to the South then that has to change. The game has to be enjoyable for kids and if that environment is created we’ll not only retain them longer but their child like competitiveness will fuel their development much further than other methods could. The session saw the insight of people like Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and former NHLer Brendan Shanahan who both provided the perspective of being in an elite league like the NHL but who also shared their thoughts through the eyes of fathers with kids coming up in the game.

The most interesting part of the day had to be the Q&A with Rene Fasel. When polled with a variety of questions from Jim Hughson we found out that he likens to enjoying hockey on the North American sized rink as opposed to a European sized rink and his thoughts on NHL expansion to Europe were fiercely protective of the European size game. At one point he indicated he would fight the NHL tooth and nail if they tried to expand into Europe making very clear that the game was in no state of jeopardy over there and that they had to work together to fight common enemies like Europe’s favourite sport soccer, as opposed to fighting themselves for attention.

The afternoon session was oriented around the evaluation of the World Juniors and how we can develop junior programs in Europe. After a Q&A session with IIHF President Rene Fasel facts about struggling hockey in Europe were brought to light, most notably that hockey players are leaving Europe at a young age to come to the CHL and develop their game. The majority of the conversation was actually oriented around discussion and debate which bashed the CHL left right and center. It was surprising to see such European patriotism as the international panel that featured members from Hockey USA, the NCCA, the Swedish Federation, the Slovak Federation and Hockey Canada was fiercely protective of the identity of their game and their players leaving for North America.

Looking upon all we discussed in day two however doesn’t seem to shed light to any new issues. What was clear from the beginning and only reinforced by these discussions is the fact that we’ve been talking about these issues for years. Player transfer disagreements, player safety, development of the sport at a grass roots level, these are all things that have been on the table for years and new ground isn’t being broken. The interesting thing will be how much of this is acted upon. These talks have taken place before, these issues have been beaten to death before, the question is will this revisiting of them result in any difference. Daniel Alfredsson and Bob Boughner put it best when they said that the change may come today, it may come tomorrow, or it may come in a year. We have no idea when it’s going to happen. Right now we’re establishing a means for it to happen by taking the first step and it will be interesting to see which organization takes the lead in progressing the issues talked about at this summit.

The area of this summit that stands to have the most influence on change is going to be the discussions of the women’s game. Hayley Wickenheiser is here with an agenda and that specificity in her attendance is part of the reason the brief discussion of the women’s game has been productive. Further detriment of women’s hockey stands to affect the sport we love as a whole and it’s important that if any item is acted upon after this summit, it be something to do with helping progress women’s hockey in the world.

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