TORONTO – Growing the game was the subject of the second Hot Stove Session at the Hockey Hall of Fame on opening night of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, and the guest speakers spoke in unison on one matter – the building of arenas.
Steve Yzerman, current GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning and executive director of Team Canada’s gold-medal men's team in Vancouver, started. “Ultimately, it comes down to providing facilities for kids,” he said. “Hockey arenas have to be not a luxury but a necessity for a community. In Tampa, for instance, we’re trying to recruit new ticket holder and players. They are our future. We need to build rinks there. Take Dallas where the Stars started to build arenas 15 years ago when they first got there from Minneapolis. Now kids from Texas are being drafted and moving into the NHL.”
Hayley Wickenheiser, captain of Canada’s women’s national team since 2006 and the highest-scoring woman in the game's history, concurred and added: “It’s a two-pronged approach for the women. In North America, everything is pretty good, but outside the top four nations things are weak. At the IIHF, for instance, there is no executive there whose sole focus is women’s hockey. We need that leadership. It’s also societal. One Russian delegate told me that women in Russia just don’t want to play. That has to change.”
Uwe Krupp, the national coach of Germany, and the man who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for Colorado in the 1996 playoffs, pointed to Canada as an example of successful programs from the grassroots level.
“It’s not just the facilities, but also making them profitable. In Canada, there’s not just a rink. There’s a tennis court, a swimming pool, a rec centre, and it’s all run by the municipality. It's only in Canada where you see this. In Hungary, they just built a simple box for hockey for 1.5 million Euros. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a rink. They have plans to build 30 of these, which will be a huge bonus for the country. In Germany, we have one sport – soccer – and everything else is on the fringe, so it’s much harder to develop players.”
When moderator Greg Millen, mentioned the state of California, Krupp was quick to expand. “Gretzky started California. When he was in Los Angeles, movie stars came to watch him. Games were on TV. He started the game there. Now, many players who grew up watching Gretzky, are themselves being drafted into the NHL.”
Yzerman concurred. “My first hockey experience was watching it on TV. That’s always going to be the first step.”