When Peter Elander informed his wife that he was giving up four days of his summer vacation to attend the World Hockey Summit, she asked the former head coach of the Swedish Women’s Olympic Team if this would be just another “convention of the lips,” with lots of talk but little action.
It seemed like a valid question. After all, any time you get more than two hockey people together in a room you can bet it will lead to a spirited discussion about the state of the game. Gather 400 of the most passionate pucksters from around the world together in the Mecca of Hockey and it’s bound to be a non-stop gabfest of global proportions.
With topics ranging from skill development to safety to pros in Sochi, there was no shortage of opinions or theories spouted during spirited debates that spilled out of the convention hall and into the taverns and streets of Toronto.
Now comes the hard part. Action speaks louder than words, and after four days of jaw jacking, the hockey community headed home with one heck of a “honey-do” list.
In the words of International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel, “We will summarize, prioritize ... and then we will act.”
John Furlong, the chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, talks about the excitement generated by the men’s and women’s Olympic tournaments.
How the hockey world acts and reacts to the ideas bandied about in Toronto will dictate whether the World Hockey Summit will be viewed as an important first step toward plotting the future of the global game, or be deemed as “a convention of the lips.”
“Everyone was fed a lot of excellent information that I hope will energize them to go back home and use it to work on some of the challenges we all have to grow the game and make it better,” said USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean, who was part of the steering committee for this summit after helping to organize the first two World Hockey Summits in Boston in 1993 and 1996.
“If they do nothing with it, if they take no action, then it will be viewed as a waste of four days.”
Part of correcting the challenges that affect the game comes with understanding all sides of the issues facing the game. An impressive stable of keynote speakers did a masterful job of putting the issues out in the open, which set the table for the diverse demographic of hockey people to provide suggestions to fix what ails the game.
Above left, IIHF President Rene Fasel addresses the state of the global game, while, at right, American Development Model Regional Manager Bob Mancini discusses skill development as NHL Vice President Brendan Shanahan looks on.
Through it all, a hockey coach in the Northwest Territories of Canada learned that the issues he faces aren’t that much different from what his Swedish counterpart is dealing with back home. And a hockey administrator in Estonia can learned a great deal about recruiting and retaining players after listening to what’s being done in New York State.
Part of the process is understanding that there are two sides to every story, and that some of the issues cannot be boiled down into a 30-second sound byte, or a 140-character Twitter feed.
There are cultural issues, such as providing equal opportunities for females to play the game in certain parts of the world, that need to be understood before the creation of a professional league or a pledge of additional funds will help narrow the ever-widening competitive chasm that threatens women’s hockey in the Olympics.
There are business issues, such as the cost of shutting down a league in the heart of a season and insuring multi-million dollar talents that need to be fully considered before passing judgment about the future of NHL players in the Olympics.
There are developmental issues, such as allowing young stars to reach their full potential in a national system before heading out to tackle the world.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman describes some of the challenges that need to be dealt with before the league will commit its players to compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games.
There are biological issues, such as those that affect long-term athlete development, and safety issues that impact the policies of when checking should be introduced into the game, that all need to be fully studied and then brought back to the table.
Despite the impressive array of speakers, presenters and delegates in attendance, the issues facing the game won’t be solved in one week’s worth of discussions. But they did present a starting point that Fasel hopes will lead to further discussion and, more importantly, action.
“Some very good ideas were presented and a lot of notes were made. Now we have to go back and do our homework,” Fasel said during his closing remarks.
“But we don’t leave it with words, I promise you that. We will come back and we will take action.”
The hockey world expects nothing else. Because anything less would be lip service.