When the 2010 world hockey summit kicks off in Toronto Monday, it will bear only a slight resemblance to the last time great Canadian hockey minds assembled to dissect the state of the game.
That came in the summer of 1999, and was the primary fallout from Canada's fourth-place showing at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, the first time the NHL suspended play in midseason to facilitate a best-on-best tournament. Full NHL participation was supposed to be the answer, Canada's top players all available, competing and in playing shape.
Instead, Canada finished out of the medals, with a comparatively veteran team, and set in motion 18 months of anxious soul-searching about the state of the game. Where was all the precocious talent that Canada had fed so consistently into the NHL, generation after generation?
Hockey Canada gathered everybody together to hash the matter out, a largely inward-looking exercise that resulted in 11 recommendations, most of them involving changes to the player-development model.
So here we are now, 11 years later, and much has changed between summits. For starters, the International Ice Hockey Federation is acting as host this time around, with a mandate to expand the discussion to the worldwide issues facing the game.
Some topics are broad-based and tied to the grassroots: How to keep more players in the game longer? Can facilities be deployed more efficiently? Is the sport safe enough at every level?
Some are gender specific: At a time when women's hockey continues to grow in Canada and the United States, is it possible to spread the word to the rest of the world, where it lags badly behind?
Some topics represent the sort of narrow tweaks that appeal mostly to hard-core fans and administrators: Should ice surfaces be standardized around the globe, rather than have one size in North America (200 by 85 feet) and another in Europe and Asia (60 by 30 metres)? Does the four-man refereeing system work best, given the speed of the game?
According to IIHF president Rene Fasel, the impetus for the summit came directly from the 2010 Winter Olympics, an event he called "arguably the best hockey tournament of our time" and "a milestone for international hockey."
"We knew that the 2010 Olympics would provide an ideal setting to study and learn more about our game," Fasel said in an e-mail. "We went to Vancouver prepared to conduct research that would provide us with substance for a constructive dialogue during the summit, thus helping us improve our game."
The summit brings together a who's who of the hockey world in one place for four days of intense dialogue. Participants include 26 of the men and women on The Hockey News' most recent list of the 100 most powerful and influential people in the game.
One of the rising stars is Brendan Shanahan, who played for Canada in that seminal '98 Olympic tournament and last year was named the NHL's vice-president of hockey and business development following his retirement.
"If you're having a summit because something is broken, you might be a little late in the game," said Shanahan, who also stresses: "I don't think things were broken in 1998, when we did this last. I firmly believe our fourth-place team in the '98 Olympics was better than our 2002 gold-medal team. It's just the nature of the Olympics sometimes."
Shanahan has some experience with these sorts of initiatives: His unofficial summit during the 2004-05 lockout is credited with helping to dramatically improve the NHL's on-ice product.
The IIHF will issue a postsummit report, and according to Shanahan, if one new original idea emerges from the discussion, the exercise will have been worth the effort.
"Think of the story of the truck stuck under the bridge and the engineers can't figure out what to do until the kid says, 'Why don't you let the air out of the tires?'" Shanahan said. "You never know who you're going to get the best idea from.
"Sometimes, when you listen to hockey people talk on TV or something, I always find there are two different types. There are those very interested in the [welfare]of the game, and then there are those pushing their own agendas or ideas that benefit just them.
"To open it up to so many different people from all different walks of hockey life, it can't be anything but a good thing."
WORLD HOCKEY SUMMIT AGENDA 2010
1. Player Skill Development Initiatives
Understanding the need for and establishing a long term plan for player development will assist player recruitment and retention and provide opportunities for a safe, positive, and enjoyable experience in youth hockey and foster long term participation in the sport at all levels of play
•Long term player development strategies
•A review of current youth development programming "Best Practices"
•Addressing the developmental shortcomings in youth hockey
•Opportunities for growth through the IIHF Audit Initiative
•Current trends and issues concerning player safety in today's game
2. Junior Development in the World
Assessing the results and figures from IIHF World (U20) Juniors, the Olympics and the NHL Draft; men's competitive level is declining and European development is suffering. Is it just a cyclical or a worrisome trend?
•The impact of European migration to the Canadian Junior ranks
•Effects of Europeans leaving for the NHL/AHL before being NHL-ready
•Strategies for maintaining the popularity of the IIHF World Juniors
•Addressing the developmental shortcomings in elite junior hockey programs
3: Vancouver 2010 Evaluation
Evaluating the 2010 Olympic men's ice hockey tournament, helping hockey to benefit long-term from the unprecedented success by sustaining the positives while developing other areas
•Television, Commercial and PR impact of Vancouver 2010
•The financial breakdown of Olympic hockey; where does the money come from and where does it go?
•NHL-players' participation - impact, consequences and costs
•Rink Comparison; IIHF vs. NHL size - where to go in the future? Is big rink better for skill development while small rink enhances the show?
Also: Managing the game:
•Does hockey need a common rulebook?
•Should the IIHF and NHL agree on a common rule emphasis?
•Opportunities for European referees to work in the NHL and NHL referees work in the World Championships?
4: Establishing a Long-Term Global Event Agenda
Exploring the possibilities to provide hockey with a long-term international event agenda for both national team and club events, further enhancing the IIHF-NHL cooperation for the growth the game
•Integrating the World Cup of Hockey into the international agenda and to consider a consistent rotation between the IIHF World Championship, the Olympics and the World Cup
•Addressing the need for an annual World Club Championship (Victoria Cup) between the Stanley Cup champion and the European champion
•Champions Hockey League - an opportunity for a re-launch
•For the best of the game - growing hockey worldwide
5: Women's Hockey after Vancouver 2010
In light of IOC President Jacques Rogge's comments with respect to Female hockey worldwide - what steps need to be taken to close the gap and to insure women's hockey remains an Olympic sport
•Reviewing the approach towards women's hockey in all IIHF member associations
•Do federations have a vision for women's hockey and visionaries who are prepared to commit to the cause?
•Increasing registration and participation among girls in the emerging women's hockey nations
•Growing the competitive environment in women's international hockey
•How should the IIHF assist emerging nations
6: Growing Participation in Hockey
Growing hockey means both recruiting new players and retaining our current ones. It is important to promote positive messaging about our game and share best practices from around the world.
SOURCE: WORLD HOCKEY SUMMIT