Talk of Tallinn
by Henrik Manninen|02 MAY 2019
Alpo Suhonen and Tuomo Ruutu were among the speakers at the seminar.
photo: Henrik Manninen
Gathering sharp minds from near and far, the IIHF Partnership for Progress Program came together in central Tallinn during the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.

Launched this season by the IIHF as a pilot-project, Partnership for Progress aims to bring bigger and smaller organizations together to form partnerships and help develop hockey countries not just at the level of national associations but also between leagues and clubs. 

The IIHF Partnership for Progress Program has now been held at six various World Championship events this season. Starting at the U20 World Championship Division IA in Fussen, Germany is was rounded off at the 2019 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B in Estonia´s capital Tallinn. In between there were several events in men’s and women’s hockey, at senior and junior events.

With an eye-catching title ´Sports Will Save the World´, the Tallinn seminar had added star gloss with the participation of Alpo Suhonen, former NHL and Finnish National Team Head Coach and Tuomo Ruutu, a 2011 World Champion player for Finland and with 735 NHL-games under his belt.

In front of an audience with a wide variety of experience from various sports, the event was introduced by Aku Nieminen, IIHF Membership Development Manager and Rauno Parras, President of the Estonian Ice Hockey Association with the latter´s opening gambit being "that the power of sports is very underestimated."

The focus for the Tallinn edition of the IIHF Partnership for Progress was the challenge of how to adapt to the new world and make sports an even more enticing and pleasant activity instead of a tedious obligation for the younger generation with short attention spans. 

Rob van Rijswijk, Former IIHF Marketing Director and currently General Secretary of the ice hockey association in the Netherlands, opened up the seminar with how to maintain the attractiveness of sports in a changing world? 

"We will not be able to stop the smart world, so instead let us think about how to make it work for us," he said as his organization has embraced the change and utilizes modern technology and younger staff to reach out and target a new generation. "Everything I say today is old tomorrow," he concluded.
Panel discussion in Tallinn.
photo: Henrik Manninen
It was followed by an inspiring talk by Tuomo Ruutu where his enthusiasm for the game shone through. Having been active in a wide array of sports as a child and teenager, it was seeing his older brother Jarkko making it the NHL that made him believe that he could follow in the his footsteps. "Do I play hockey or do I work hockey? I always played hockey," Ruutu explained his outlook on hockey which he now tries to instil in the next generation of Finnish hockey players as an assistant coach of the successful Finnish U20 men´s national team.

With Finland, Russia, Sweden and Latvia as its neighbours, the next topic on the agenda was a panel discussion on how to make Estonia great as a hockey nation. 

Kalle Valiaho, Youth Hockey Manager of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association, pressed on the importance to minimize drop-out levels. Van Rijswijk used examples taken from his 20 years in Switzerland, where a target was set and progress made with realistic and small steps achieved with patience. 

Suhonen lined up the hard facts from his time at the Austrian Ice Hockey Association where infrastructure, a top league and professional coaches was required in order to reach the top. He also mentioned the importance for each country to instil its own identity and not be too overly reliant on foreign coaches or input. Suhonen was also was keen to point out the virtue of patience and pointed out that it took Finland 20-25 years after hockey had still been strictly an amateur sport before they started to win medals at international level.

Tying into Ruutu´s experiences with being active in a wide range of sports and emphasize on the fun element was the core for Kalle Valiaho, Youth Hockey Manager of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association when presenting "The Lion Road, Finnish player development pathway."

Saving perhaps the best to last, Suhonen gave a presentation on performance culture as he returned to a city he first visited back in 1971. Then he visited Tallinn with Finland´s Assat Pori and recalled being the only player who went along to a Giuseppe Verdi opera. 

At the centre of his presentation was what he calls "Cross-pollination of science/art" and how human skills in life can learn from art. 

He emphasized the importance of understanding the human being and how the legendary hockey coach Andrei Tarasov, was strongly influenced by theatre and ballet. Tarasov´s teachings totally changed his outlook on hockey. As did the aggressive hockey Suhonen once advocated, which changed once he saw the ugly side of it arriving in North America. 

Following the success of the Tallinn event, Parras now hopes that at least one similar seminar can take place in Estonia each year, while Nieminen encouraged any ideas for future projects in order to continue to "meet people, make local impact."