Even at 60 years old, Tom Renney can still remember the names of his minor hockey coaches and the colour schemes of the various hockey jerseys he wore as a child.
Those childhood experiences had an impact on the former NHL coach and current Hockey Canada president — and at a panel at the North Peace Arena last Saturday, he and three other hockey officials talked about how to make sure the rink is some place that kids want to go.
“(Hockey) really does define us in lots of ways, and we should be proud of it,” he told the crowd. “This is our sport.”
For him, it was important to judge kids not on how well they play, but how much fun they are having.
He told the crowd that out of 90,000 kids taught by certified coaches, only 14 would make it to the NHL.
Even of the 66 players present at the World U-17 Challenge for the Canadian teams, he estimated that only 14 or 15 would make it, “maybe.”
Parents had a role to make sure that kids were having fun.
“Adults that are in the arena when children are playing, they have to understand that they’re a parent to every single child in there,” he said. “Every parent has a responsibility, as does every adult, to make sure the hockey experience is exceptional.”
The panelists acknowledged that they have come across some bad parents.
Joe Drago, Hockey Canada’s chairman of the board, said that one parent of a Junior A hockey player he coached would come to his house at 7 a.m. lecturing him that her son wasn’t getting enough ice time — with statistics from the night before.
Drago said that he traded the player to another team, simply to get him away from the mother.
For the panelists, education was an important way to stop abusive parents.
“A lot of people may not know there is an abuse issue,” said Renney. “Education is
Paul Carlson, Hockey Canada’s vice-president of development, said that the large percentage of good hockey parents, could help deal with the bad hockey parents who are creating a negative environment.
Renney also identified some “perception” issues with the sport that could be addressed to improve hockey enrollment throughout the country.
“There’s a perception that hockey is very, very expensive,” he said. “It’s expensive if you think you have to play on that triple A atom team that travels across Canada to play, or if you’ve got to use Sidney Crosby’s prototype hockey stick that costs $300, or pair of skates that costs $600.”
He said it costs him more to put his two daughters through dance than it would to play hockey.
“We just have to make sure we work very, very hard and especially inviting those kids who might have a hard time economically with some help,” he said. “With travel to make it less time consuming on a family, to understand the value of playing close to home. The game is the game is the game, and we don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to travel around the world to get the fun we see.”