Curbing violence at the youth level and changes to the under-17 program are the main items on the agenda at Hockey Canada’s semi-annual meeting this weekend.
The organization said Friday it is forming a new committee to study acts of violence in hockey, including fighting and hits to the head, and recommend sanctions.
“We’re really looking at all violent acts,” Hockey Canada president and chief executive officer Bob Nicholson said. “That’s hits to the head, fighting is going to be part of that. We’ve got a really good committee here and we’re going to be working with USA Hockey, we’re going to have dialogue with the Canadian Hockey League, and so we’re going to look at all of that to try to make sure we make the game safer.”
Nicholson said safety was one of key three areas Hockey Canada is addressing, along with affordability and availability of ice time, in order to make youth registration attractive to parents.
The number of high-profile concussions suffered by hockey players recently, including superstars such as Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, has put the spotlight on safety in the sport.
“I think attitudes are changing,” Nicholson said. “You have to listen to what people are saying to us, and they want to make sure its a safe environment for their kids to play sport. I think hockey is but I we have to even show them that we can make it safer.
Nicholson said the committee will set direction and suggest stronger suspensions for players, and even teams and coaches, for violent acts. He said Hockey Canada has had dialogue with both the CHL and USA Hockey on how to address violence.
He said there hasn’t been dialogue with the NHL yet, but he is encouraged by the work of Brendan Shanahan, the league’s director of player safety.
“We certainly can’t dictate what the NHL is doing. They certainly are looking at all this and Brendan Shanahan’s done a great job,” Nicholson said. “He’s advancing [safety] that way. I want to make sure we let him know the different things we’re looking at, so as the committee starts to have its own internal dialogue we’ll let the National Hockey League know what we’re thinking.”
Hockey Canada also announced sweeping changes to the under-17 program. The organization will play host to its first national U-17 camp next year in Calgary. The world under-17 challenge tournament will move to November, and Canada will field three national teams made up from players from across the country instead of five regional teams.
The hope is this will get players used to representing Canada at an earlier age, hopefully culminating in a more cohesive team at the world junior championship.
Canada hasn’t won gold at the tournament in four years, and last year was kept off the podium entirely.
“This is one of the greatest programs in our sport and a great partnership with the Canadian Hockey League, but the other countries are doing more,” Nicholson said. “They’re getting together more often, they’re playing more games, so we have to know who our best players are and give them the best opportunity when they put on the Canadian jersey to go out and win.”
Hockey Canada also announced funding initiatives for women’s hockey and grassroots programs funded by the profit of more than $500,000 generated by the 2013 IIHF women’s world championship in Ottawa.