“In lots of ways it’s (like) coming home.”
That’s how Tom Renney described his return to Hockey Canada after being introduced Tuesday as the organization’s new president and chief executive officer.
Renney’s relationship with Hockey Canada goes back more than two decades, to when he was the head coach of Canada’s National Men’s Team from 1992 to 1994. He guided the team to a silver medal at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games, as well as Canada’s National Junior Team to silver at the 1999 IIHF World Junior Championship. He won two more medals as an assistant coach with the 2004 (gold) and 2005 (silver) IIHF World Championship teams.
In between stints behind the bench he spent two years behind the scenes as the vice-president of hockey operations. Now he’s back, this time as captain of Hockey Canada. It’s role that means a great deal to the Cranbrook, B.C., native.
“It’s like coming back and giving back to your family,” he says. “You can appreciate how meaningful it is to me that I’ve been entrusted…to lead the parade here from an operations perspective. I certainly would not be able to do that had I not had great experiences with Hockey Canada in the past.”
In his new role, Renney will oversee the men’s, women’s and sledge high-performance programs; sales, marketing and licensing; membership; communications; grassroots registration, development and retention; and volunteer coaches and officials. It’s these last two areas – grassroots and volunteers – in particular, that Renney looks forward to engaging with.
“(This position gives) me a chance to pay attention to what’s most important in the game and that’s developing its people, and not just on the ice but off the ice,” he says “I take great pride in that. It really does start with the little people’s first adventure to the rink.”
Renney still remembers his first time on skates, an hour-and-a-half outing spent in a 10-foot radius. “I was absolutely soaking wet and cried my head off when I was told I had to get off the ice. I hadn’t moved 20 feet (the entire time).”
He was hooked.
“I remember being a five-year-old defenceman standing on the blue-line because that’s where I was told I was going to play and watching the play go to the other end of the rink and still standing there. It was wonderful.”
Renney’s passion for development at the grassroots level is rooted in these happy memories with the Cranbrook Minor Hockey Association. And they’re a warm reminder – and nudge – about what he needs to do to help instill this love of hockey in others.
“We have to align ourselves with the reason why we participate in the first place, and that’s because mom, dad, a referee, a coach and a manager decided to make coming to the rink worthwhile when we were little people.”
Renney looks forward to building relationships with the people who make the rink feel like a second home. With any luck this fall will allow him and other staff members some time to visit arenas and work shoulder to shoulder with officials, scorekeepers, players and parents.
“I know across the country we have thousands of volunteers that are ready, willing and able to step up and give their time to make sure that we make the arena a destination,” he says.
Talking with volunteers about the sport over coffee at the rink and offering feedback on how they themselves can grow within the game are just two things Renney hopes he and his team can do to bring a more personal touch to the game at the community level and continue to help it grow.
“The big thing is through my example at least I’m able to remind people that this is what we got to do more of,” says Renney. “And I’m ready for that.”