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This Is Hockey

Declaration of Principles aims for best 'family hockey experience'

United initiative created to promote character development, life skills

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

NEW YORK -- When 17 hockey organizations helped craft the Declaration of Principles, they had someone like Philip Bannerman in mind.

Bannerman, 13, is in his ninth year playing for Ice Hockey in Harlem, a youth program in New York. He said the values he's learned through playing hockey have helped him on and off the ice.

"I know you have to work at something hard if you really want it," he said. "That's something hockey has taught me. It's helped me for sure with discipline and especially respect."

Among the principles, which were signed by the organizations, including the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, during a press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, are for hockey to be an enjoyable family experience; the recognition that hockey's greatest role is in the development of character and life skills; the benefit of playing multiple sports; and how hockey should be all-inclusive regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic status.

 

[RELATED: This is Hockey | NHL, NHLPA unveil Declaration of Principles | Pope Francis extols Declaration of Principles]

 

Philip's father, Kofi, said he's seen the impact playing hockey has had on his son, even away from the rink.

"You can see the discipline, the character building, the tenacity and the leadership," he said. "Philip is the kid the other kids gravitate toward. They all want to be Philip's buddy. I see that through the discipline he got from ice hockey."

The goal of the Declaration of Principles is to have the Bannerman family's experience be the norm for any family anywhere in the world that has a child who wants to play hockey.

"It's creating the best possible family hockey experience," said Pat LaFontaine, NHL vice president of hockey development and community affairs and one of the leaders in the creation of the Declaration of Principles. "And that can be for fans, for youth hockey players, at any age."

Video: NHL stars share positive values gained from hockey

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones is the son of former NBA player and current Indiana Pacers assistant coach Ronald "Popeye" Jones, but said the values he learned playing hockey from an early age appealed to him and have carried into his life as well as his NHL career.

"The [Declaration of Principles] are about what the game teaches you," he said. "For me it was discipline, time management, those sorts of things. … [Hockey] teaches you a lot of different things, respect. The culture of our game is second to none."

Jones, along with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, joined LaFontaine to discuss the principles during an appearance on "Today" on NBC that included hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie shooting hockey balls on Fleury on a street hockey rink built in the plaza outside Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

The NHL players also got to play stick hockey on the rink with young players from Ice Hockey in Harlem and Hockey in New Jersey.

"An initiative like this, trying to develop the game at the youth level, it's important to make certain that you're doing it the right way and with the right values in mind," McDonagh said. "That's what this is about. It's great to see the kids come out here, middle of the city like this, and have some fun on a good day."

The creation of the Declaration of Principles began in 2015 with the goal of drawing more young fans to hockey, and grew with input from the global hockey community at two Hockey SENSE summits held in Toronto during the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

As the ideas developed, organizations were engaged that represented the global hockey community, from the NHL and the NHL Players' Association to USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the Canadian Hockey League, the United States Hockey League and the NCAA.

"If you look back historically there was probably too much fragmentation," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "But we understood early on just from casual conversations that we all looked at the game basically the same way in terms of the values of the game. Pat LaFontaine's leadership and effort bringing everybody together in one room and starting to talk about the game is what brought us to this point."

Each of the 17 organizations involved has plans for growing its fan base, but the Declaration of Principles for the first time unifies their effort and allows the organizations to share best practices.

"A lot of us have worked together in a lot of different areas of the game for years and years," USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said. "To collect everyone, with the NHL's leadership, pull everyone together, really makes a difference. We have messaging that goes out to our million-plus members in USA Hockey. When that message is amplified by the NHL, by the [Players' Association], by everyone involved with the Declaration of Principles, it only strengthens what all of us do at the grass-roots level."

Whether Bannerman develops elite skills or not, the goal is to keep him, and boys and girls around the world like him, involved in hockey.

"With what I see in Philip he can have a future in the NHL," Kofi Bannerman said. "Even if he doesn't play hockey to a high level, his speaking skills are good, he's an intelligent kid. He does well in school. Anything in ice hockey, I want him to be around it. I think it would be good for him."

Kelleher echoed those sentiments.

"Everyone wants to be as good as they can be as a player, but also recognize there's a place for every player, every boy and girl, in the game, regardless of how good they are as a player," he said. "We want them involved in our sport because we think it's more valuable in their life than anything else they'll do as an activity."

Video: Hockey unites to launch Declaration of Principles

LaFontaine said he sees the unveiling of the Declaration of Principles, which includes the website ThisIsHockey.org, as a beginning of a broader push to not just create better hockey players, but better people through the life skills learned through playing the game.

"The thing that's really powerful, and I'm so proud to be a part of this whole hockey community, is what the game means to everybody and how they feel about it, and the passion they have for it," said LaFontaine, a Hall of Fame center who played 15 seasons in the NHL from 1983-1998. "I think collectively, altogether, it just raises the standard. Working together in alignment gives us the best opportunity and best possible chance to address how we shift and continue to grow for the well-being and sustainability of the hockey community and its future.

"The game's given so much and now we're giving back. What a mantra for the well-being and sustainability of the future of our game, the global hockey community coming together. It starts after today to really support what the principles are saying, live those principles, help each other out and work together for what the principles to stand for."

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