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Summing up the Summit blog @NHLdotcom
Summit tackles youth hockey participation issues
08.26.2010 / 8:33 PM ET

Hockey is only as good as its foundation.

For that reason, the Molson World Hockey Summit made sure it closed four days of soul-searching about the state of the game with an in-depth look at ways to increase the levels of youth population across the globe.

Scott Smith, Hockey Canada's Chief Operating Officer, Pat Kelleher, the assistant executive director of membership development for USA Hockey, Finland's Arto Sieppi, Sweden's Tommy Boustedt and Dr. Paul Dennis, the recently retired mental skills coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, talked about the problems in attracting young players to the sport.

They were joined in the discussion by Chicago Blackhawks president John McDonough and Cyril Leeder, the president of Ottawa Senators Sports and Entertainment, each of whom discussed youth hockey initiatives in their markets.

Hockey around the world is facing difficulties luring new youth participants for a variety of reasons, including misconceptions about the sport being too violent or expensive, competition from other sporting options as the sports landscape diversifies and the precipitous drop in physical activity by much of today's youth.

In that competitive atmosphere, hockey must make every attempt to set itself apart from other sports. Dr. Dennis says that perhaps the best way to do that is to insulate participants from the stresses we introduce the game at too early an age by emphasizing winning and performance.

Dr. Dennis says youngsters are falling victim to "Athletic Darwinism" because they are asked to put winning first well before it should naturally evolve into a primary objective.

Return the game to a fun exercise youngsters can participate in with their friends and it will once again be an attractive option for children.

"We need to motivate these kids," Dr. Dennis said. "We need to help youngsters develop the emotional skills so they can meet the challenges of competition."

Scott says that quality coaching by informed professionals could teach children that “every obstacle should be seen as a challenge and a thrill and not as pressure.”

Sieppi, meanwhile, stressed the we must sell the game to the parents, who make the decisions on whether their children will give the sport a chance.

"All parents want is the best thing for their kids, so hockey has to be fun and safe," Sieppi said.

And that is exactly what USA Hockey has done, says Kelleher.

The organization has spent its youth hockey resources -- both cash and manpower -- to encourage parents to provide their children with an initial exposure to hockey.

USA Hockey believes it can live up to its slogan -- Youth hockey: Watch your child soar before your eyes -- by promising the parents to deliver on these three promises about the experience: it will be fun, it will be supervised and it will result in achievement.

No matter the approach, all the panelists acknowledged that much work remains, but each felt that the challenges they face can be overcome and that Thursday's discussion at the Summit will only help in that quest.

"I'm bullish on hockey," Leeder said in the conclusion of his speech. "I think the game will continue to grow in Canada, and throughout the world."

-- Shawn P. Roarke

Ruggiero spreads women's hockey message
08.26.2010 / 5:04 PM ET

Angela Ruggiero loves the game of hockey.

Why wouldn't she? It has made her famous beyond her dreams, provided for a top-notch education at Harvard University, delivered her four Olympic medals and allowed her to literally see the world.

"Hockey has opened all those doors for me," she says.

So it's not surprising the Team USA defenseman wants future generations of female hockey players to have the same opportunities she has had playing the game.

What is surprising is how active she is in making sure it becomes a reality. That is the reason she was at the World Hockey Summit on Thursday, a panelist in that forum's discussion of the future of the women's game.

It is why she made an appearance on the popular TV show "The Apprentice." It is why she speaks publically almost any time she is asked to appear.

She simply wants to get her message to as many people as possible.

"I've gained a ton of exposure through "The Apprentice," through things like Twitter, through anything that allows you to reach your fans," Ruggiero said. "I think that is one problem with our sport is we don't get opportunity to reach our fans as much. When we do, it is extremely effective, such as the Olympics.

"I think that is one thing our sport can continue to do and obviously everybody here (the media) is helping give us that exposure so more kids sign up."

Aside from making sure young girls in North America are exposed to the game, she crusades internationally to try to help close the gap between the sport's super powers (Canada and the United States) and the minnows (Slovakia, Russia, China).

It is that disparity in talent levels that may be the biggest threat to the women's game, according to the panelists in Thursday's session. In fact, IOC President Jacques Rogge has publicly said that if some of the struggling programs can't improve dramatically, women's hockey in the Olympics can not remain a guaranteed proposition.

She hopes the struggling federations find a way to bridge the gap. She, like everyone in the women's hockey community, has pledged her support to help in any way possible.

"It's up to them; do they want women's hockey?" Ruggiero said. "I think (women's hockey) is a great means for social change. It's a sport that is traditionally looked at as only male -- especially in those Eastern European countries. But if they bring it on, it's an opportunity for women to have more personal freedom and to just enjoy the sport that I think everybody should have the opportunity to love.

"Why don't they have it? I personally don't know. I hope there were some members from their federation that took some notes and, hopefully, go back to their federations and make some changes."

-- Shawn P. Roarke

Wickenheiser to call it quits after Sochi
08.26.2010 / 12:08 PM ET

Canadian women's hockey superstar Hayley Wickenheiser, 32, announced Thursday at the Molson World Hockey Summit that the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be her final Olympic appearance with the national team. She, however, did not announce her full retirement from the national team.

Wickenheiser, 32, has played for Team Canada for the past 17 years and has been an integral part of the team's run of three-straight gold medals in Olympic competition, including a championship-game victory over the United States this past February in Vancouver. Wickenheiser captained the Canadians in that tournament.

Wickenheiser was the keynote speaker during Thursday morning's session of the Summit, which focused on how women's hockey could become more competitive in the run-up to Sochi 2014.

She said, in her presentation, that one of her goals leading up to Sochi is to help the rest of the world to Close the gap on Canada and the United States when it comes to international competition.

"I don't want to be asked in Sochi when I come off the ice for the final time as a member of Team Canada, like i was in Vancouver after the gold-medal game, if hockey belongs in the Olympics," she said in Thursday's speech. 

-- Shawn P. Roarke

Burke strives for Olympic perspective
08.25.2010 / 6:03 PM ET

Toronto GM Brian Burke is one of the biggest defenders of international hockey in the National Hockey League. He has argued vehemently and eloquently for the League's participation in a host of international events during his time with the League.

He has also served his country on the international front, most recently as the GM for Team USA at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, picking a team that earned a silver medal after a championship-game loss to Canada in OT.

Yet, he chafes at the suggestion by many at the Molson World Hockey Summit that the NHL should just march off to Sochi, Russia, in four years to continue the momentum garnered from the phenomenal experience this past February in Vancouver.

"It's very simple to say we should send our best players, but it is not that simple," Burke said.

Burke himself wants to go, wants another chance at a gold medal. He also said Wednesday that his employer, the Toronto Maple Leafs, are among the NHL teams that believe the League should continue its Olympic involvement.

"As I have said, I've made it clear, the Toronto Maple Leafs want to go," Burke said. "Ownership has made that clear. But I will also tell you that we are sympathetic to the issues and we want some resolution on those issues." 

The issues are far-reaching and complex.

Player safety, travel, scheduling and access by NHL teams to NHL players during the tournament are just some of the issues that must be ironed out before the League commits its resources to Sochi.

He also vehemently denied the oft-stated assertion by many in this debate that the League is holding the possibility of not playing in the Olympics as a bargaining chip to be used to garner something from the NHL Players' Association in the next round of collective bargaining. 

"I've read where people say it is a good bargaining chip for the owners," said Burke, who was a panelist in Wednesday's spirited session on the global hockey calendar. "I do not see where this is a chip at all.

"There are legitimate business concerns to not go. There are legitimate reasons to not go and you have to see how they balance out against the reasons to go, which are also considerable."

Burke says that is an ongoing dialogue that the NHL will continue until it is time to make a final decision on Olympic participation.

-- Shawn P. Roarke

Evaluation: 2010 Olympics
08.25.2010 / 12:55 PM ET

My table mates were gentle on me.

That doesn't mean I persuaded all of them. But, in the spirit of IIHF rules, there were no gloves dropped or instigators taken.

The theme for this morning's session at the 2010 Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit was: Evaluation of Vancouver 2010. But the discussion quickly pivoted away from how great that event was to whether NHL players would be in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Olympics.

I am the lone NHL representative at the collection of delegates around Table 25. You do the math on how things broke down.

After a series of presentations from the stage that pulled all of the heart strings -- mine too, as my screen saver is the celebration shot from 1980 and I have yet to take Herb Brooks' phone number out of my speed dial list -- arguments were made about whether NHL players should play in Sochi. Just about everybody in the big ballroom agreed -- including me, panelist and Red Wings GM Ken Holland and delegate and Maple Leafs and Team USA GM Brian Burke.

But there is a colossal difference between what people want emotionally and what can happen practically -- as Burke pointed out later when critics of the shootout in the gold medal game ignored the fact that TV coverage of the immediately-following closing ceremonies simply would not allow for an open-ended overtime.

There is also a big difference between a group of hockey lovers in a hotel ballroom asserting that it simply makes sense that participating in the Olympics has a major positive impact on the NHL and supporting that with four Olympiad's worth of evidence to the contrary.

Also, there's this -- and when I posed it to our group, they at least raised their eyebrows, though they certainly did not nod in agreement: NHL players' participation in the Olympics does more to raise the profile of the Olympic hockey tournament than it does for raising the profile of the NHL. That's not to say that the NHL gets no benefit, nor that the League shouldn't do anything that doesn't return millions to its coffers -- I'd argue that the NHL does as much or more than any organization in the hockey world to grow the game by donating its money, time and efforts.

Rather, it should provide some background when folks wonder why the League would like to have more input into how the tournament is run, what access our medical people should have to our players and have the NHL Network and be able to run game highlights.

Of course, Gary Bettman can say all of this much more eloquently than I can. Fortunately, it's his turn up in front of the big room next. Time to get back in there.

-- John Dellapina

Topic of junior development widely debated
08.24.2010 / 7:16 PM ET

An enlightened homage to stylistic diversity from Hockey Hall of Famer Murray Costello and an impassioned plea for help/sanity from longtime Czech coach Slavomir Lener to anyone who would listen began the eye-opening afternoon session of the 2010 Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

The topic was Junior Development in the World. And after Costello extolled the virtues of players from different nations bringing their unique approaches to the National Hockey League melting pot, Lener went into painstaking detail to explain the recent downturn in Czech and Slovak hockey, arguing that the exodus of junior-age players to the Canadian Hockey League was both disastrous for those European nations and pointless for the players.

Lener rolled out a slew of statistics to support his contention that Europeans have a far better chance of becoming established NHLers if they stay in their own countries to develop through the end of their junior hockey years. He then pointed into the audience to Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who took just such a route to NHL stardom.

Representatives from flourishing Sweden, struggling Slovakia and the soaring United States junior development programs followed with their takes. Then it was left to Canadians Kelly McCrimmon of the CHL and Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier.

McCrimmon did not argue any of Lener's points but rather refocused the discussion on the responsibility that each development program has to improve itself to remain competitive. He said the CHL instituted a commitment to scholastic education at least partially in response to the recent success of the American program. Regier explained that NHL teams' desires to get the European players they draft to North America as quickly as possible is more focused upon the AHL level than for junior hockey players.

All in all, a very informative presentation.

Then we again broke into the smaller working sessions at our individual tables. And it was then and there that pie in the sky either met harsh reality or simply ignored it.

There was widespread consensus that some rule should be put in place to limit or completely eliminate the number of European junior players who could move to the CHL -- even though such an edict undoubtedly would trigger a series of lawsuits.

Similarly, many tables argued that the Entry Draft should raise its eligible age from 18 years to 19 or 20. While many NHL general managers and scouts might not mind that ability to lessen the uncertainty about the youngsters they're projecting, U.S. and Canadian labor laws and the Collective Bargaining process probably would have something to say about that.

At our table, this American wondered aloud about what was gained from having kids leave their hometowns at such a young age to play junior hockey elsewhere. Suffice to say, that did not cause the Canadians among our group to stand up and cheer.

Of course, what would be the point of a gathering such as this if ideas great and small, impossible and utterly doable, couldn't be thrown on the respective tables?

By the way, there was international and pretty universal agreement on one point: No matter how or where they're developed, the best players in the world should play in the NHL.

-- John Dellapina

Boughner ready for Columbus challenge
08.24.2010 / 4:05 PM ET

Former NHL defenseman Bob Boughner is about to embark on a new phase of his life and he can't wait for the opportunity.
Training camps open on Sept. 17 and the new assistant coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets is champing at the bit to get back into the NHL swing of things after a successful run as part owner and coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires.
"It was one of the harder decisions I've ever made," Boughner said Tuesday after serving as a panelist at the Molson World Hockey Summit. "I always had a goal to be a head coach in the NHL and although I had some offers to go to the American League and take over American League teams, I think I had such a great situation in Windsor that I didn’t want to do that.
"When an NHL job came up, you know, how long do you wait to get to that phase? We had some success in junior and really now that I’ve been out of the League for five years, out of the NHL; I need to get back in there and I need to learn the League again and I need to learn other team’s personnel and what better way to it as an assistant?"

So, Boughner jumped at the opportunity to work with Scot Arniel in Columbus. Arniel is a delegator, according to Boughner and, as a result, Boughner will work with the forwards during the game and also work on the power play. He should also spend some time with the defensemen during practice situations.
"I'm going to give my heart and soul to Columbus and try and make them a playoff team," he said, "but I made no beefs that I want to be a head coach and hopefully this will help me get to that stage."
And, he believes his junior management career has prepared him for what lies ahead in Columbus.
"In junior you had to do a ton of teaching," Boughner said. "I think in the NHL guys are still learning but you’re more of a tweaker. You’re dealing with guys that are financially set with families instead of dealing with a teenager that has teenage problems. So that’s going to take a little getting used to, but I think I relate well to players.
"I think I'm a players' guy and I think maybe I can help some of the younger players have some success and be that guy."

-- Shawn P. Roarke

Laviolette talks Olympics
08.24.2010 / 2:05 PM ET

IIHF President Rene Fasel was bowled over by the Vancouver 2010 Olympics it seems.

Vancouver was best-ever tournament for me," Fasel said Tuesday during a formal Q and A session at the World Hockey Summit. "It was just incredible."

In fact, the best-on-best national team tournament, featuring NHL players for the third-straight Olympiad, was so good that it changed Fasel's opinion about the small ice surface, which was used in Vancouver.

Generally, Olympic hockey tournaments are contested on the larger ice surface prevalent throughout Europe, but the 2010 Games were played on the 200 by 85 sheet used by the NHL's Vancouver Canucks.

"After the Vancouver Games I will tell you I like the small ice very much," he said. "What I saw was that the intensity of the games, for the hockey fan, was just incredible."

Despite that, it is unlikely he will push too hard to unify the playing surfaces in North America and Europe. He admits the big ice question is a political one in Europe that will not be easily decided.

He also said that concerns about figure skating and speed skating, sports that use the same ice surfaces as hockey throughout Europe, will further muddy the issue.

-- Shawn P. Roarke

Fasel a fan of the small ice
08.24.2010 / 1:55 PM ET

IIHF President Rene Fasel was bowled over by the Vancouver 2010 Olympics it seems.

Vancouver was best-ever tournament for me," Fasel said Tuesday during a formal Q and A session at the World Hockey Summit. "It was just incredible."

In fact, the best-on-best national team tournament, featuring NHL players for the third-straight Olympiad, was so good that it changed Fasel's opinion about the small ice surface, which was used in Vancouver.

Generally, Olympic hockey tournaments are contested on the larger ice surface prevalent throughout Europe, but the 2010 Games were played on the 200 by 85 sheet used by the NHL's Vancouver Canucks.

"After the Vancouver Games I will tell you I like the small ice very much," he said. "What I saw was that the intensity of the games, for the hockey fan, was just incredible."

Despite that, it is unlikely he will push too hard to unify the playing surfaces in North America and Europe. He admits the big ice question is a political one in Europe that will not be easily decided.

He also said that concerns about figure skating and speed skating, sports that use the same ice surfaces as hockey throughout Europe, will further muddy the issue.

-- Shawn P. Roarke

What I've learned
08.24.2010 / 1:35 PM ET

One fascinating panel presentation and subsequent breakout discussion down in my experience as a delegate to this World Hockey Summit. And I've got a few initial takeaways:

First, I apologize to my son, Andrew, and the rest of the boys and girls from Randolph, N.J., that I coached as Mites 10 years ago. If I only knew then what I know now ... There can be no more frightening words than the ones spoken (admonished, really) from the stage at the center of the Air Canada Centre floor by Dr. Steve Norris this morning: "Remember, they're only 8 years old once."

Second, if the delegates to this event are representative of the rank and file -- and even the hierarchy -- of the hockey world, everything is going to be fine, if not perfect.

Some 400 folks plunked down $450 each just to be here because they love the game -- including the four fine gentlemen from various parts of Canada who are joining Craig Button of the NHL Network and me (and U.S. National women's coach Mark Johnson, when he arrives) at Table 25 this week. And if they don't all have solutions, they certainly know the right questions to ask and many reasonable answers.

Dr. Norris, who hits you first with a British accent that he admits might make you question his expertise, then hit me with a 15-minute synopsis of how boys and girls develop mentally, physically and emotionally and what that means for how they should best be coached. Bottom line: An inordinate amount of growth and learning takes place when they're Mites and Squirts. So, as moderator Bob McKenzie astutely pointed out, shouldn't the most skillful coaches then be working with the youngest hockey players?

I now repeat my apology from above.

Dr. Norris, Brendan Shanahan, Peter Laviolette, Bob Boughner and the others on the stage provided plenty of insight into the various aspects of the broader topic for discussion this morning: Player Development.

But it was after they were finished serving it up and each of the 40-something tables were instructed to begin digesting and producing nourishment for the game that I began to think this event might actually produce more than just talk.

No, none of us will return to our respective home towns and solve the problems of misguided coaches who overplay their top players in the desire to win and instruct their 10-year-olds to clobber one another. No, none of us will be able to quickly erect a dozen new rinks in order to alleviate the scarcity of ice time that is a colossal problem.

But we'll head home with ideas that we can deploy to make our next practice more fun, more efficient and more geared toward developing better players and citizens.

One other heartening thing: My experience in New Jersey is not all that different from those of the folks in hockey-mad Canada. We're all in this together. This week in Toronto. And going forward.

-- John Dellapina

Summit's first night an appetizer for what's to come
08.24.2010 / 12:00 AM ET

The settings were regal -- four spaces inside the Hockey Hall of Fame, one more dazzlingly full of history than the next.

The panelists included some hockey royalty -- Steve Yzerman, Daniel Alfredsson, Hayley Wickenheiser and the great Slava Fetisov -- in addition to the game's movers and shakers, such as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, IIHF President Rene Fasel and Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke.

And the topics ranged from the sweeping -- The State of the Game and Comparisons of the International and North American Games -- to the extremely focused -- Agents' Roles in Working with Young Players and Contracts and Transfer Agreements.

If you arrived expecting any earth-shattering conclusions about how to improve the game world-wide, you went home empty. But if you simply showed up Monday night in Toronto to hear some of hockey's most influential figures offer a few opinions on the game, you got what you came for. This, after all, was a night to tee up the three days that will follow -- six lengthier sessions that will enable both panelists and delegates to dig deeper into a variety of hockey topics. 

With delegates remaining in place while the panelists rotated to them for a series of half-hour, hot-stove discussions, the first night of the World Hockey Summit was less movable feast than hand-served hors d'ouevres. But there were some delectable and unexpected nuggets.

There was Fetisov, who a dozen years before had risked his entire career to take on the old Soviet system and win his freedom to play in the NHL, sitting on a panel with Daly and Fasel and pleading for help to keep Russian players home. There was Alfredsson, the Swedish icon who learned the game and won an Olympic gold medal on an international ice surface, stating in no uncertain terms that he prefers playing the game on NHL-sized rinks.

And there was Yzerman, the three-time Stanley Cup-winner and recent GM of the Canadian team that won Olympic gold, focusing upon the scarcity of rinks and high cost of outfitting youth players when simply asked about what challenges confront hockey.

The night left you wanting more. And the challenge for the World Hockey Summit is to deliver that over the next three days.

-- John Dellapina

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