ST. LOUIS - After finishing as a finalist for the 2018 World Junior Championships, having five players selected in the first-round of the 2016 NHL Draft, announcing plans for a new youth hockey rink in Creve Coeur and a promise to invest $2 million to developing youth hockey in the area, it’s doubtful anyone would need more proof that St. Louis has become one of the biggest hockey hotbeds in the country.
But for those that remain skeptical, consider this: USA Hockey is hosting it’s National Hockey Coaches Symposium this week in the Gateway City.
“Being here at the coaches symposium is a real treat,” said Chris Zimmerman, the Blues’ President & CEO of Business Operations. “These are the people that really are youth hockey - the volunteers and certainly the highest level of coaches. Here we are in the summer, I’m sure many of them are starting their season soon, and they’re giving up a weekend to learn and better themselves. To have nearly 400 coaches from around the country come in to St. Louis for their national event is really a gift to the Blues and to all of St. Louis.”
The symposium is the pinnacle of the USA Hockey Coaching Education Program, which hosts more than 725 coaching clinic each year.
“This [symposium] is for the passionate coach who really wants to learn and grow their knowledge about the game,” Mark Tabrum, the director of the Coaching Education Program, told USAHockey.com. “When they come here they’re either learning something new about the game or it’s reinforcing their current coaching philosophy.”
Blues broadcasters John Kelly, Chris Kerber and Kelly Chase will be serving as emcees throughout the event. On Thursday, former Blues Keith Tkachuk, Chris Pronger, Rob Ramage and Jamal Mayers served as part of a panel that discussed growing the game through the USA Hockey program.
For Tkachuk, whose sons Matthew and Brady have played with the U.S. National Development Program, giving back and growing the game is the least he can do.
“Being a hockey player, I wouldn’t get to where I did without people helping me out,” Tkachuk said. “I’m very fortunate to have kids who wanted to play hockey and I was able to coach them after I retired. It was something I wanted to do and something I loved to do. It’s important to stay involved and keep growing the game.
“The game has been great for me personally and I feel I owe it to other kids to do the right thing and get them involved in this great game.”
For Zimmerman and the Blues, growing the game in the community is a big part of the club's philosophy.
"We’ve done a lot of the things we’ve been after," Zimmerman said. "This is a marathon, not a sprint. But this is one of the most critical things, not just for our youth, but also for the long-term health of our fan base."