VIERUMAKI – Ice hockey development is an inexact science. With 76 member national associations comprising the International Ice Hockey Federation, each one with its own needs, growing the game brings with it unique challenges.
Tackling two of the major keys to development are the IIHF Coaching and Youth & Junior Development Committees, helmed by 2017 IIHF Hockey Development Camp chairmen Tom Renney and Petr Briza respectfully.
Renney, a longtime former NHL head coach and now CEO of Hockey Canada, recently held a Q&A session with coaches and coaching mentors from all over the world at the HDC, while former Czech Olympic national team goaltender Brza has been working with the players on-ice and meeting with representatives from the 54 member national associations in attendance at the camp.
IIHF.com sat down with both camp chairmen to get their thoughts on the state of international hockey development.
What have been your impressions of the camp so far?
TR: For the campers it’s an excellent venue, it’s great for them to be part of the Vierumaki campus in general. The delivery of the camp…what we have been doing for both the mentor coaches, the administrators, and the players…will be extraordinary because of the nature of the organisation itself and how well-prepared the people are.
I believe that Vierumaki and institutions like this is where ice hockey needs to go globally in order for the rest of the world to embrace the sport like we’ve had to good fortune to do.
PB: It’s my first HDC this year, I remember as a kid though having similar camps like these in the summer. It’s a great location and the facilities are fantastic, Vierumaki is pure sport and really a nice place. I feel proud to be associated with this camp and we should make sure that we are continually making camps like these and be better. This is a great base to work on to grow the game.
The IIHF’s primary focus during the ice hockey season is dedicated to managing the World Championship program, do you feel that using the camp as a way to interact directly with member national associations and to pass down leadership skills to MNA representatives is effective?
TR: I don’t know any other way to be honest with you, you have to tap on the shoulder of experience and identify with those countries that are established in the game of hockey, that have strong leadership and that feel an obligation to share it with others.
What I like about what the IIHF has done is that they have put themselves in a position to coordinate that effort, by identifying through its committees the delivery of the game not just in meetings but out there on the ground. That’s what I like about Vierumaki where we have Petr the chair of the development committee and me the chair of the coaching committee and we’re the “boots on the ground.”
PB: When we talk about development there is always the key word “planning”. National federations have first to think about how to organize themselves and build a system that fits, and we have the guys here that can give their advice from the coaching development and officiating sides. It’s great that Tom is here, I remember when he was a coach and I was sitting on the bench (laughs) I had a lot of respect for him and now it’s a great opportunity to learn from each other.
In our committee we realized that the first step was to get to know the associations better. We sent out a questionnaire that gave us an idea of how much they invested into their development and plan to work off the insight that comes in.
Your individual committees act as a link between the IIHF and its member national associations, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing ice hockey growth and development and do you see a pattern?
PB: It’s a political question, should the IIHF grow and continue to bring in countries that would have a hard time to meet the Minimum Participation Standards? We should really have discussions about developing from Point 0, asking and pushing help and promoting hockey in these countries.
But there is a legitimate question to ask: where is the point where the IIHF can bring the game and where is the point where the responsibility of the MNA begins? Some of these countries need more effort and more energy, and it can be hard. You think of in the Czech Republic where a game like baseball is played by a minority whereas its huge in America, these are unique challenges that ice hockey faces in some of these places. We can’t forget these federations need to see things from their point of view.
TR: I do think there is a good base for ice hockey in these countries, I don’t think that we’ve figured out yet how to deliver better development strategies. I do think there is a good base of knowledge, good coaching and programming and material to educate coaches. That’s one half of the equation, the other half is getting these coaches on the ice and getting them practical experience needed to coach. I think that’s where the gap exists.
So for the IIHF and the established MNAs come in its incumbent on them to be helpful. That’s where the IIHF can deliver itself to the rest of the world, by helping to coordinate the Czechs, the Russians, the Finns, the Swedes, the Americans, the Canadians. There is a very high volume of good officials, administrators and coaches there that the IIHF can help coordinate to get them out into the world and help these countries. Therein is the formula to success.
Do you feel that there is a perceived responsibility on the shoulders on these MNAs, especially those that have been competing at the top divisions of the IIHF for years, to do more to support ice hockey in those countries where it is still being developed?
TR: I think that’s our responsibility as a member of the IIHF. I think that in our home countries we would have resistance to that: they would say “well why don’t we take care of our backyard first?”. I do still believe that we have to do both, I think that also as a federation you are actually helping yourself because it offers the chance to experiment overseas. You might be trying out new methodologies, new ways to deliver the game. You’ve got to take a little bit of a risk by how you deliver the game to some of the other federations, and by doing that it’d be actually fortifying your own program, and get enough courage from the experience to go back home and try something different. I think it’s good.
PB: You see in the last years that Hockey Canada has been dominating with the quality of their teams and the level of play at the IIHF Championships. And it gets people asking what they can do to help their nations to reach that consistence, even the strong countries ask us. They are always really open to share with us, it’s important that we can create a strong group of federations that can operate under a principle of solidarity with the developing ice hockey nations to work together. As an obligation the IIHF should be in the position of coordinating it and offering to connect these programs together.
Do you feel that the knowledge transfer between MNAs is improving?
PB: We can be better every time, the world is changing with new ways of communicating and we have to adapt to it and find new ways.
TR: The established federations help a lot, we can be more effective at collaborating and working together but its good.
PB: When we talk about solidarity, there are some MNAs that have leagues that are really rich. I think with the resources that the NHL, KHL, and the European leagues have now they can work even more with the federations on recruitment, because that’s the hockey that the average person is watching. Because at the end the leagues will only be so good as the development systems work. I remember the Vancouver Olympic Games, that was like hockey from another planet and we need to make sure we continue to produce the type of player that made that tournament so special.
Hypothetical scenario, if your committees had an unlimited budget next year what kind of projects would you like to invest in to step up the IIHF’s development and coaching efforts?
TR: Great question, I think a combination of electronic and practical tools for coach education, development, and certification.
PB: There is a rate of fluctuations between MNAs and clubs so it’s a never-ending story with development and you lose good people that move between jobs. For me development is investment and I’m convinced we need to use Vierumaki as a central hub to go and try and develop and teach and educate coaches and officials here as possible. I would say we’d need that money not for one year but for ten years (laughs) but we’ll try.