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Herb Brooks Foundation hosts Grow Hockey Summit

 

On October 15, the Herb Brooks Foundation gathered 15 of the most influential people in hockey to address the subject of growing the game of hockey at the youth and grassroots level. The Grow Hockey Summit was held during the Let’s Play Hockey and Lacrosse International Expo in Las Vegas.

Following is a lineup of the panelists, with a selection of some of their insights ways to grow the game of hockey.


Ron Daniels
Partnership Development Manager
Hockey Night in Canada Play On!

The Hockey Night in Canada Play On! program is a 4-on-4 street hockey festival that bills itself as “The Official Canadian Street Hockey Tournament.” The event started in 2002 and this year attracted nearly 5,000 teams in men’s, women’s and co-ed divisions. Events are held across Canada, leading to a national championship event in Niagara Falls that is broadcast live on the CBC.

Daniels says the Play On! program addresses three major issues that hamper the growth of grassroots hockey: the cost of playing hockey, the idea that hockey is a means to an end (i.e. playing professionally) and a decline in sportsmanship. At Play On! Events, limited equipment is required.

Daniels said, “You are encouraged to play for the love of the game in a fun, festival atmosphere, a county fair-type atmosphere.” 

A big reason Play On! has succeeded, according to Daniels: “Put the players and the sport first and deliver what you say you will deliver.”


Bob Hoffman
Director of Operations
Central Hockey League

The CHL is a 10-team league in the Midwest and Southwest which Hoffman describes as the equivalent of Class AA minor league baseball. Hoffman says the CHL encourages its teams to use their players “to build footprints in the community that are going to last.” The CHL promotes events in the schools such as reading and concussion awareness programs, as well as junior hockey leagues.

“The CHL tries to teach both skills and attitudes not just in hockey, but about life,” Hoffman said.


Skip Prince
President and Commissioner
United States Hockey League

The USHL is the only Tier 1 junior hockey league in the U.S. The 16-team league allows players 20 years of age and younger to gain amateur hockey experience while preserving their NCAA eligibility.

“We recognize we’re already responsible for helping to grow the game,” says Prince, explaining that all team understand their role in reaching out to others to promote interest in hockey.

The USHL introduced a plan with the NHL and USA Hockey to redefine rules and talks to its players, coaches and officials on a regular basis about playing the game the right way.

The USHL is tracking injuries, reviewing rules and looking at equipment needs. 

“We’re trying to take ‘dumb and dangerous’ out of the game,” Prince said. “We can’t have an ‘idiot game.’”


Kevin Erlenbach
Manager, Program Services
USA Hockey

Erlenbach leads membership development for USA Hockey with the focus on the 4- to 8-year-old level. Faced with the fact that half of the entry-level players leave the sport by age 9, Erlenbach discussed the “2 and 2 Challenge” program which utilizes national programs to increase local participation – with the goal of acquiring two additional players and retaining two players from the total of the previous season.

The steps taken start with retention (a “Welcome Back Week” is held in September) with personal invitations to return, acquisition (“Try Hockey for Free Day” starting in November, in which local rinks donate their ice time for the event) and conversion (a transition program to get kids to join a youth hockey program).

USA Hockey provides marketing tools such as customizable videos, artwork templates, marketing materials and online registration websites for local associations and also provides Best Practices and starter kits for the Try Hockey for Free Days.

“We find out what local associations are doing and find out what’s working,” Erlenbach said.


Darryl Gross
Floorball Planet
Rob Coggins
USA Rollersports

Gross and Coggins talked about the potential that floorball and roller hockey can have on increasing interest in hockey since the cost is significantly less than hockey, and in the case of floorball, it’s even played without skates.

Floorball resembles floor hockey but is played with lightweight, plastic and composite sticks, a plastic ball and has rules promoting safety and skill. All that is needed to play is a stick and a ball and costs less than $50.

“We’re trying to introduce kids to a sport like hockey without the cost and commitment,” Gross said. “We need to get more sticks in kids’ hands and floorball is the answer to do that.”  


Rick Ragan
President
Minnesota Ice Managers Association

Ragan is more involved in the facility side of hockey but stressed the importance of having a better, cleaner facility that attracts people and makes it a place where players and their families enjoy hanging out.


John Connelly
Director of Development
National Sports Center

In his staff capacity at the NSC, Connelly is involved in the Herb Brooks Foundation and the Schwan Super Rink, the largest ice arena of its kind in the world in Minnesota.

“Herbie had a vision that if we had more and more players the game would get better,” Connelly said. “The Herb Brooks Foundation formed the Rink Rat Program to get more inner-city kids involved in hockey and it also formed a Sunday night league for high school kids who still love the game and want to stay involved without a huge time commitment. The goal is to keep them from dropping out altogether.”

Connelly also pointed out that the Schwan Super Rink places a great emphasis on learn-to-skate programs for youth, which can feed kids into any ice sport – figure skating, speed skating, and of course, hockey.


Michael Benoit
Founder, President and CEO
Total Hockey

Benoit, who runs the exclusive hockey equipment retailer of USA Hockey, makes free equipment donations to hockey associations and have started a Hockey Green program in an effort to determine a way to recycle broken and unused composite sticks.

“I view us as an important piece of going out and delivering, and being an important part of growing the game,” Benoit said.


Marshall Stevenson
American Collegiate Hockey Association

The ACHA, a USA Hockey member program, promotes the opportunity to continue playing at the collegiate level hockey on non-NCAA club teams, at three men’s divisions and two women’s divisions. More than 10,000 players are currently participating. 

In addition to the panelists mentioned above, the following other panelists contributed ideas during the Summit: Keith Noll, National Chairman, AAU Hockey; Rob Pallin, coach of the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL; Sara Danielson, Marketing and Creative Coordinator, North American Hockey League; Chuck Suritz, Co-Director, Hockey Dealers Association; John Gustafson, General Manager, Sharks Ice at San Jose.

About the Herb Brooks Foundation:

The Herb Brooks Foundation is dedicated to growing the game of hockey and giving the game back to the kids. Founded in 2003 by Dan Brooks and Kelly Brooks Paradise, Herb’s family and friends created the foundation to preserve his legacy by continuing his life’s work by growing the game by “making hockey fun for kids and letting them learn to love the game the way we did.” 

The Herb Brooks Foundation is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. The Foundation has offices at the National Sports Center in Blaine, where they manage the Herb Brooks Training Center at the Schwan Super Rink, a dry land hockey training facility that fulfills the priority that Herb Brooks placed on dry land training.