Time for another hockey summit has come, writes Wayne Scanlan,
Canadian hockey is hopeful a world hockey summit this summer will do for the sport what a congress in 1999 did for it.
So, where were you when the last great hockey summit was held? If it helps, the year was 1999, so chances are pretty decent that if you were a fan of Canadian hockey, you were off grumbling somewhere.
That particular summit was held in a time of national panic following the Olympic hockey tournament of Nagano, Japan, in 1998. For the first time, the men’s Olympic hockey event featured a best-on-best format, as the NHL made its finest players available.
For Canada, that meant Wayne Gretzky, in the twilight of his unique career, would lead what many were calling a hockey ‘Dream Team.’
Dreams can evolve into nightmares, of course, and that’s what happened when Canada lost in a semifinal shootout to Dominik Hasek and the Czech Republic, before also dropping the bronze-medal game to Finland. To make things worse, Finland and Russia captured the world junior titles in 1998 and ’99, as Canada experienced a rare drought at the junior level.
And then the final elbow to the stomach — the Canadian women’s program, which had dominated the world championships, had to stand and watch the inaugural women’s Olympic gold hockey medals being draped around the necks of the American team that stunned Canada in the final.
Coincidence or Canadian crisis?
The giant headlines and series of stories suggested the latter, paving the way to a three-day ‘Open Ice’ Summit in Toronto in the summer of ’99, featuring No. 99 himself, Gretzky, along with Ken Dryden, Scotty Bowman and other elite figures of the game — players and administrators.
The gathering essentially analyzed what had gone wrong with Canadian hockey, a worthwhile exercise even if, looking back, it all seems a slight over-reaction to one frustrating Olympic result, against the world’s greatest goaltender of the day.
Some good came of the hand-wringing, though. The summit led to 11 Hockey Canada recommendations to help encourage player development in this country, boosting coaching programs and nurturing talent.
What a difference a decade makes.
Today, Canada is coming off a string of hockey successes, including men’s and women’s hockey gold at the Vancouver Olympics and five of the past six world junior championships.
Hockey Canada’s program of excellence, started by former Hockey Canada president Murray Costello of Ottawa, has helped this country hot house the best talent and ready them for international competition.
Our pride restored and position in the game secure, Canada is now looked to by other nations trying to grow the game. And so on Tuesday, when Hockey Canada, in conjunction with the IIHF, NHL, USA Hockey and the CHL announced another major hockey summit, the focus is now on developing the game on a global scale.
The 2010 Molson World Hockey Summit, planned for Toronto Aug. 23-27, will discuss player safety and development, while trying to work together on future international events.
Among the potential discussions:
The lack of a transfer agreement with the Russian hockey federation. NHL teams are weary, to the point of being leery, of drafting Russian players and then wondering if they will report. The lack of a working agreement and the rise of the KHL has put the NHL and Russia at odds. There is no better time to work on the issue, with the Russians anxious for the NHL to attend the Olympic tournament in Sochi in 2014. But will there be a Russian representative at the summit?
Smoothing the waters between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation. Szymon Szemberg, the IIHF’s director of communications, stirred more interest from Canadian hockey fans than any world championship game ever could when he used the IIHF website to slam NHL players who don’t show up for the worlds. Szemberg chided Sidney Crosby, Canada’s biggest star and the man who scored the Olympic overtime winner in Vancouver. Crosby had been to back-to-back Stanley Cup finals, and earned the right to a rest. Szemberg could have handled the situation with some diplomacy, but threw a gas can on a tiny ember. Hockey Canada was outraged, IIHF chief Rene Fasel apologized to Crosby’s agent, Pat Brisson, but bad feelings persist. This one has the potential to become a small sideshow at the hockey summit, but then, a juicy news angle doesn’t hurt to publicize the event.
Preserving women’s hockey at the Olympics. It’s not that Canada and the U.S. women aren’t good enough. They’re too good, relatively speaking. Or maybe too fit. When she was in Ottawa prior to the Olympics, Canadian forward Hayley Wickenheiser said the gap between North American women and Europeans is largely due to the professional programs being run here, including camps and off-ice training. European girls can play the game, but their programs lag behind ours, largely because the old boys hockey federations in Europe don’t provide the support given to North American girls.
IOC president Jacques Rogge’s criticism of the imbalance in the women’s game amounts to a call for action. This summit will lead the charge.
“I would personally give them more time to grow but there must be a period of improvement,” Rogge said while in Vancouver. “We cannot continue without improvement.” Subscribers can read previous columns by Wayne Scanlan at ottawacitizen.com . He can be reached at wscanlan @thecitizen.canwest.com .