The overall theme of Thursday's Congressional Hockey Caucus policy briefing at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill was the blueprint for continuing the growth of youth hockey–and access to youth hockey–in the U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who founded the Congressional Hockey Caucus in 2009, said he attended a Chicago street hockey staged by the Blackhawks and Chicago Boys and Girls Club that attracted more than 300 kids.
NHL Commissioner noted the Nashville Predators, playing in "what some might call non-traditional markets" now regularly play a lineup with a defenseman who was born and developed in California (Jonathon Blum) and a left wing born in Florida and grown into a NHL-caliber player in the Nashville area (Blake Geoffrion). He added that 146 Americans were in NHL lineups on opening night this season, representing more than 20 percent of all players.
Congressional Hockey Caucus co-leader Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) talked about the explosion of hockey dreams in Omaha, explaining nothing "is more romantic in sports than a frozen pond." He was on the Omaha city council when the University of Nebraska-Omaha first proposed to start a Division I hockey program, assigned as the "leader in getting ice" for the now thriving UNO team.
Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine told compelling stories about first learning to skate in the St. Louis area–but only after trying as a tyke on double-runners, feeling completely frustrated and throwing his skates in a closet for a year. He tried again and eventually started playing at an organized level when his family moved to Michigan when he was seven years old.
LaFontaine mentioned that Rep. Brian Higgins (D.-NY), the third co-leader of the Congressional Hockey Caucus, grew up with Patrick Kane's father. When the Blackhawks star was young, the elder Kane took Pat to a local outdoor rink once each week when the ice was good enough for skating. During Kane's youth, his dad and others lobbied to put a dome on the rink so kids could skate there more frequently and with better ice conditions.
"I was talking to the Congressman (Higgins) last night," said LaFontaine. "I said, if not for that dome, maybe Rep. Quigley (a self-proclaimed Blackhawks) wouldn't be standing up here this morning talking about the team as Stanley Cup champions."