After nine hours of panels, group work, questions and answer periods as well as informal discussions over food, one thing is clear at the 2010 World Hockey Summit: the amateur hockey system has to change.
Whether it was cautions from Dr. Steve Norris or Dr. Mark Aubry on the overly demanding training in youth hockey during the morning’s Player Skills Development session or the dire warnings of Czech National Program Director Slavomir Lerner of the talent drain from Europe to North America, it was plain as day that things need to change.
Although it’s difficult to sum up nearly six hours of presentations, the general consensus was that minor hockey associations are too focused on turning young players into National Hockey League superstars, sapping the game of its fun and making it excessively dangerous.
As panellist Brendan Shanahan said “How come I don’t hear about kids playing shinny anymore?”
The speakers spoke of multiple concussions to eight and ten year-olds, massive dropout rates in children’s hockey (44% of American hockey players have stopped playing by the age of nine) and a dwindling European junior system robbed of its best talent by the superior Canadian Hockey League.
During question and answer periods as well as in break-out discussion groups the delegates and officials in attendance at the WHS brainstormed ideas that could make amateur hockey fun again for the casual player, while creating a more practical Long Term Athlete Development plan for adolescents and teenagers who want to become professionals.
The idea that was most popular – garnering a round of applause from the Air Canada Centre’s floor when it was suggested – was raising draft eligibility from 18 to 19.
Many groups of delegates had come up with similar concepts including raising the draft age to 20 or forcing players to stay in midget for a minimum of two years and junior for three. A freeze on all international movement at the junior level was also a common theme.
One radical suggestion was to raise draft eligibility to 19, but allow NHL teams to take 18-year-old players at the cost of two draft picks. So a Sidney Crosby-type player would have cost the Pittsburgh Penguins their first and second-round draft picks.
It was an informative and exciting day of hockey talks, and I’d strongly recommend that you follow the above links to see video of the panel discussions. Also, if you want up-to-date quotes from the day’s events follow me on Twitter.
Today’s discussions will start with an evaluation of hockey’s role at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, then a Q and A with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and then finish off with an afternoon session on Establishing a Long-Term Global Event Agenda.