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WHS Panels put spotlight on Youth and Junior Hockey

After some spirited discussion last night at the Hockey Hall of Fame Hot Stove sessions, the World Hockey Summit will switch their focus to half-day long panel discussions on Skill Development at the Youth Hockey level and then to the Junior ranks today.  When Hockey Canada had their big public review back in 1999, developing skill at the youth hockey level was considered the prime focus of the event, and judging by the current panel, they will focus on those accomplishments made in North America.  Not a single European representative will be present at the first panel, which is quite curious, since there are definitely some countries that are struggling in this regard.  Uwe Krupp, speaking last night at the Hot Stove Session on "The State of the Game", was the first panelist that addressed the financial drawbacks of getting more players to take up the sport.  That won't likely be brought up tomorrow, as the issue of purely growing participation has it's own half-day session scheduled for Thrusday.  How exactly this panel will play out with the non-Canadian and American representatives at the WHS will be interesting. 

It hasn't been revealed what specifically will be addressed in this panel, but amongst the hot button issues in youth hockey in Canada is the age at which body contact is introduced.  To that end, there are two doctors who will be speaking at the panel, one of whom is the IIHF's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mark Aubry.  Dr. Aubry has studied extensively on the issues of concussion in sport, and it's hard to imagine his opinion on the proper way to teach body contact won't be sought.  When Damien Cox ripped the summit in an article for the Toronto Star yesterday, he specifically cited player safety issues as one of the topics that wouldn't be addressed. 

Head shots, we’d all agree, were the No. 1 topic of discussion in hockey at many levels all of last season. Yet no mention of them will darken the doors of this summit, or the issue of concussions, although both could conceivably come up during a general discussion on player safety.

Safe to say that Cox didn't have much expectations for this panel, or else didn't bother reading up on the issues up for discussion.  I suppose he covered his ass a bit with that last statement. 

I don't know how much I can add to the discussion of youth hockey development...  I'm not a parent, and haven't been involved in minor hockey for nearly twenty years.  I do know that there are countries that are struggling to maintain participation rates, notably the Czech Republic, where 2/3 of all registered hockey players are adults according to the 2009 IIHF Survey of Players, which I wrote about on Puck Daddy back in January.  Clearly, Canada and the USA have managed to not only increase youth participation in recent years, but develop a formidable national network of skill programs that have paid dividends at the higher levels.  I get the feeling that in that aspect of the discussion, it'll be at best a sharing of information of what has worked so well in North America that could be used by European federations, or at worst a big pat on the back for a job well done.  The fact that Sweden doesn't get to join in on the party is curious, as they've also recently seen the dividends of re-evaluating their youth hockey programs around the turn of the century. 

The afternoon issue on Tuesday will be on the Junior Development of Hockey around the world, and this one promises a more interesting take.  Here's the only chance that the grievances that European federations and the NCAA have towards the CHL's aggressive recruitment policy could be aired.  Tom Anastos, long time commissioner of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, is one of the panelists and quite possibly the only person directly affiliated with the NCAA in any of the panels (most USA Hockey people are with the national organization).  The panel also features Slavomir Lener of the Czech Republic as a featured speaker, and that could be of great interest as the Czechs have been overwhelmingly targeted by the CHL's Import Draft.  The recent case of Martin Frk might even be addressed, as Frk's transfer to the QMJHL was denied by the IIHF.  Of course, the panel is being led by Cole Butterworth, a longtime CHL employee (it's hard to get a read on what exactly his current role is, but he seems to be in the marketing department).  That being said, with only Kelly McCrimmon (Head Coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings) also on the panel, the CHL isn't overly represented here.  It may not be the one sided discussion that many were anticipating.

Tommy Boustedt of Sweden and Jan Filic of Slovakia will likely take the side of players staying in Europe for their junior development.  In fact, we know that's what Boustedt will argue, as it is his prime concern heading in.  Check out the video "European Growth" on the WHS website, as Boustedt is given a short 1 minute clip of what he hopes will come from the summit.  

If anyone knows if there are transcripts of the panels out there, forward them onto me.  My email is at the bottom of the page. 

Topic Area 1:  Player Skill Development Initiatives

Session Lead:  Pat Kelleher, USA Hockey

Moderator:  Bob McKenzie, TSN

Speakers:  Dr. Steve Norris, Hockey Canada; Dr. Mark Aubry, IIHF CMO

Panelists:  Peter Laviollette, Head Coach of Philadelphia Flyers; Bob Mancini, USA Hockey; Brendan Shanahan, NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations; Bob Boughner, Assistant Coach of Columbus Blue Jackets; Jack Hewitt, Kraft Canada (yes, a corporate sponsor is on the panel).

Topic Area 2:  Junior Development in the World

Session Lead:  Cole Butterworth, CHL

Moderator:  Jim Hughson, CBC

Speakers:  Slavomir Lener, Director/Head Coach of Czech National Teams; Murray Costello, IIHF Vice-President

Panelists:  Tommy Boustedt, Director of Swedish Ice Hockey Association; Jim Johannson, USA Hockey; Kelly McCrimmon, GM/Head Coach of Brandon Wheat Kings; Jan Filc, Slovak Ice Hockey Association; Darcy Regeir, GM of Buffalo Sabres; Tom Anastos, Commissioner of CCHA.