Hockey may be Canada’s game, but Hockey Canada president/CEO Bob Nicholson thinks it's time to take the sport to the next level.
“We need to grow the game globally,” the long-time Hockey Canada head man says. “I think that for us to grow, we all need to work together. Hockey Canada, USA Hockey, the IIHF and the NHL – if we all came together and we wanted to do some things in Europe, or we wanted to go to Asia, with that group around the table we could do it, and we could make a heck of an impact.”
The first step comes this August, when Toronto hosts the 2010 Molson Canadian Open Ice Summit. Leaders from Hockey Canada, the International Ice Hockey Federation, National Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League will come together to discuss how to grow and manage the game in North America and through the IIHF membership, from the grassroots to the international game.
Nicholson believes that growth starts in one place.
“Anytime you are trying to grow the game, you have to go back to the player,” he says. “Player environment, player skill, player safety, player movement, those are areas you can really start to look at, and if we can get everyone involved, I think there a lot of solutions out there that maybe we haven’t tied together.”
Discussions with other countries and other hockey groups have already begun, Nicholson says, and he is excited about the feedback he has received, and the potential spread of information.
Regardless of a team’s ‘agenda’ on the ice – countries like Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland have realistic gold medal aspirations in Vancouver, while teams like Norway, Belarus and Latvia are unlikely to contend for a medal, but will get experience that will help their hockey programs grow – Nicholson believes everyone can help advance the game.
“To grow the game should be similar for everyone,” he says. “I don’t think any of us should have excuses that we can’t grow the game. We should all be there looking at different ways to get skates on more kids and get more fans involved in the game of hockey. That’s a common interest to everyone.”
The idea of a hockey summit is not foreign to Hockey Canada – in 1999 the first Molson Open Ice Summit was held, which produced 11 recommendations for hockey in Canada.
Nicholson says the products of those recommendations can still be seen today.
“We didn’t have programs in the schools, and now we have our skills academies, we have over 100 of those across the country and they continue to grow,” he says. “Looking at skill development, that really gave us the platform to work on skills of the game, and what the coaches do at all levels of the game, and that went all the way from Atom hockey all the way to our National Junior Team on how we select players. It was huge for us. We’re still working on those recommendations and many more.”
With the eyes of the hockey world on Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Nicholson says the timing could not be better to roll out plans for the summit, which he hopes brings about the same results as it did in 1999.
“I look back 11 years, and it was the best platform we have had to make a difference in minor hockey. We’re excited to do it again.”