Brian Burke kicked off Hockey Alberta’s 2015 Hockey Conference and Annual General Meeting on Friday night by saying thank you.
Burke, the President of Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames, opened the Hockey Conference by thanking the parents of minor hockey players, as well as the volunteers and minor hockey association representatives who contribute their time to providing opportunities to play the game.
“Hockey has lots of challenges, but why I’m not worried about the future is the people in this room – the volunteers. You are the linchpins,” Burke said. “And to the parents, thank you. We understand the sacrifice it takes…. Your kid plays the toughest sport in the world.”
Burke addressed a number of areas in the game that are of concern to him, including a reduction in opportunities for unstructured hockey, the cost of participation, the age and condition of public arenas across Canada, and a lack of focus on the importance of academics.
For Burke, these are all areas that need to be addressed because “we want to create hockey players for life.” And he said he was encouraged by the announcement earlier in the evening of the new Mission and Vision statements for Hockey Alberta that focus on the player.
Burke’s keynote set the stage for a panel discussion that focused on a number of key elements for developing the game.
Panelists represented the spectrum of involvement in the sport: Kyle Rehman (NHL referee), Ray Bennett (assistant coach St. Louis Blues), Paul Carson (vice president Hockey Canada), Brendan Morrison (retired NHL player and current minor hockey coach), and Fran Gow (coach mentor Hockey Alberta, AJHL VP and former long time junior hockey coach). The panel discussion was moderated by Dean Molberg and Rhett Warrener from Sportsnet 960.
The panel discussion covered a wide range of topics, including body-checking options, half-ice practices, practice to game ratios, the challenge in recruiting and retaining officials at all levels, spring hockey, playing sports other than hockey as part of long term player development, and various aspects of coaching.
Bennett talked about how not introducing body-checking until a certain age does not mean that contact is removed from the game. In fact, there is more of a focus on coaches at those levels to teach skills such as proper body positioning to achieve the true goal, which is to cause the opposing player to give up the puck.
Rehman talked about the challenges in keeping young officials involved in the game, and the importance of utilizing technology, such as video, to provide as much support as possible.
Carson discussed the fact that the hockey community has to take a close look at the ‘traditional model’. Other sports adjust the size of the playing surface according to the age of the participants. For hockey, that means making better use of the ice with half-ice practices.
Morrison said he does not believe that hockey should be a year-round sport, and pointed to the benefits of playing other sports because players learn skills that can beneficial in hockey.
Gow stressed the importance of communication for coaches in clearly outlining expectations about how the team will operate, and everyone’s role in helping make the experience positive for all involved.
The AGM and Hockey Conference, being held at the Calgary Westin, continue on Saturday with three specialized seminar streams focusing on Hockey Administrators, Coach Directors and Elite Coaches. The event concludes Saturday afternoon with Hockey Alberta’s annual general meeting.