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NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 16, 2010
PAUL CARSON: Thanks very much. Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Paul Carson. I'm the director of development with Hockey Canada. I have the pleasure of serving as the host for this media call today and introducing you to a group of individuals who will play key roles in the summit event planned for this summer.
On behalf of the 2010 Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit steering committee, I'm pleased today to announce the four individuals who will serve as the summit leadership team for the four-day event to be held in Toronto from August 23rd to 26th.
The proceedings for today's call will be that I'll introduce the group and then have each one speak briefly and then provide the media with an opportunity to ask questions of each of our group.
The summit's foreseen global teamwork promoting the growth of the game will be brought to life through interactive seminars, presentations and discussions, led by a who's who of the global hockey world from the International Ice Hockey Federation, Hockey Canada, USA hockey, the National Hockey League, the National Hockey League Players Association, and the Canadian Hockey League.
The goals of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit are to provide an inclusive forum to table the most pressing questions surrounding our game and to work together to find implementable solutions.
It's my pleasure to introduce the summit leadership team, and on behalf of the steering committee, thank each of them for their commitment and support to this very important event.
For background information on each of the summit leadership team members, I would direct the media to the WorldHockeySummit.com. This is the official website of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.
Now our team.
Daniel Alfredsson, the current captain of the National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators is a 14-year member of the team and Olympic gold medalist and long-time Swedish team national member.
Brian Burke, the general manager of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, who also served in the same capacity with the 2010 U.S. Olympic silver medal-winning team in Vancouver.
Steve Yzerman, general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning and four-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist with Canada, and the executive director of the 2010 Team Canada gold medal-winning team at the Olympic Games Vancouver.
Our fourth member is Hayley Wickenheiser, a member of the Canada's national women's team program. She's been a member of that team since 93/94 and four-time Olympic medalist.
First I'd like to call on Hayley Wickenheiser to speak. She's taking out time from a charity golf tournament in Calgary to join us. At the conclusion of her presentation, Hayley will jump off. But for further opportunities to speak with Hayley, please contact Andre Brin and he'll make the necessary arrangements for you.
HAYLEY WICKENHEISER: Thanks, Paul. Basically for me, I'm very pleased and honored to be a part of the World Hockey Summit. I think it's a great opportunity for people from around the world to get together and discuss the game at all levels.
I guess in particular, my interest lies in the development of the female game, not only here in Canada, North America, but around the world, the pressing questions of how we continue to take the game to the next level and develop the game worldwide, what we can learn from different aspects of the game.
With my experience in playing, living overseas in Sweden, Finland, playing professional hockey, being a member of Hockey Canada for a number of years, looking forward to being a part of it, offering what I can, making some steps forward out of this summit that can really help the women's game moving forward.
PAUL CARSON: Thanks very much for your comments, Hayley. As I said before, Hayley will be jumping off. Just want to remind everybody, one of the key topics at the summit is the women's game internationally and how the gap has closed between North America and the rest of the world. Hayley will play a key role in that session. It's really important that we have representation from the female game talking about the female game.
Thank you, Hayley.
I'll now turn it over to Daniel Alfredsson.
DANIEL ALFREDSSON: Thanks, Paul.
Well, it's pretty exciting to be part of this. Obviously, great job for the people that put this together and have the most influential people in hockey from all over the world together at the same time to brainstorm and discuss the current state of the game and the future of the game, where we can see this going.
I feel honored to be part of this and hopefully I can bring some insight from my own experiences internationally and my development in Sweden and the NHL as well. I'm really looking forward to this. It should be a great week.
PAUL CARSON: Thank you very much, Daniel. Appreciate your comments.
Next we'll hear from Brian Burke.
BRIAN BURKE: I'm going to repeat everything that Daniel said. What struck me looking at the roster here, this leadership team, the old Sesame Street song, Of Three of These Belong Together, What Doesn't? There are three great players on here and I can't lay any great claim to a playing career of any magnitude.
Hayley, one of the best players that ever played at any level in hockey, Steve and Daniel, it's an honor to be involved with these folks.
For me, I will repeat a lot of what Daniel said. The three keys I think are assembling some of the top leaders worldwide so it's not just the North American or Canadian viewpoint, but a global viewpoint, give us lead time to prepare and then engage in the discussion, and debate and figure out what we can do better globally to make this game better and grow it.
I'm pleased, honored, excited, looking forward to the summit.
PAUL CARSON: Thank very much, Brian.
Lastly, I'll turn it over to the fourth member of our summit leadership team, Steve Yzerman.
STEVE YZERMAN: Thank you. Again, I would concur with Brian that it's an outstanding group. All three people, the two gentlemen and Hayley, to be involved with them, all people that I've worked with and been around and competed against, really it's an honor for me to be a part of this group.
I've had a wonderful career in international hockey. As everyone would attest, there's a special emotion involved or attached to playing internationally, representing your country, whether it be as a player or as a manager or as a coach. To be able to be a part of the summit and sit and listen and add input is something I'm really looking forward to.
I think we'll find that it's going to be a very interesting group of people, a lot of good discussion. I think the international game today is more popular than it's ever been. That bodes very well for the game. I think it's a very worthwhile effort and we can continue with the momentum that has been built over the last few years in international play.
With the game around the world growing and growing, the level of talent, whether it be the men's game, the women's game, at all different levels, the competition for winning whatever respective tournament it is, there's more and more teams vying to win these tournaments.
It's an opportunity for us to really take the international game to an even higher level and the game in general.
PAUL CARSON: Thanks very much, Steve. Really appreciate those comments.
The media on the call will recognize the depth of commitment and experience we have in the four members of the summit leadership team. This concludes the formal portion of the media call and I would now open it up for questions from the media.
Q. Brian, usually a summit signals a crisis or a coming together because somebody has a problem to solve. Clearly it's not the case here. You mentioned trying to do some things better globally for the sport. Are there specifics or details that you think might be discussed during the week?
BRIAN BURKE: Well, the challenges for me, again I haven't gotten in the room with the other people, the challenges I think we have in our game, forget where it's played, are to keep the game available, affordable and to make sure we're always looking at alternatives. In other words, if we can't afford to built 365-day-a-year refrigerated ice rinks in Canada, why aren't we building roller rinks? We have to focus on alternatives where we can skill develop and teach the game.
You look at the demographics here in Toronto, they've changed dramatically. More than half of the people in Toronto came from other places. We have a different ethnic diversity base here. We have to make sure this game is available and affordable for everybody.
My primary goal going in is to say how do we continue to grow this game. It's the hardest game in the world to play. You can master the athletic skills to play any other game much quicker than you can in hockey. It's the most expensive, time-consuming and difficult game to play from an equipment standpoint. These are things we have to keep our eyes on.
For me, that's my orientation coming in. I agree, there's no crisis. This is a great idea. When Bob Nicholson first announced this, I thought this is great. Like Steve said, you know, we talk about this here all the time. A stolen idea has the same value as an original one. If we can get in a room and someone can come up with an idea that makes sense, we're going to grab it, take it, do it right away.
Q. Steve and Daniel, I assume you might have had other plans for August in the off-season. Why is this important to you to spend the time and to be part of this? Especially you, Daniel, coming from outside of North America, bringing that perspective.
DANIEL ALFREDSSON: I guess I can start.
Well, growing up in Sweden, you play the game. I moved to Ottawa, it was a huge change. Once you're in the locker room, doesn't matter where you are. The language might change, but everything from how you are treated in the locker room, the language that goes on, it's the same all over the world.
Having a perspective from both sides, I hope that I can contribute with my experiences. It would be fun to golf in August, but I'm sure I'll have enough time to get some games in before.
I'm really looking forward to this. Like Steve and Brian said earlier, it's a lot of people with a lot of experience, so I'm sure I can contribute a little bit, but I'm going to learn a lot as well. It's going to be fun.
STEVE YZERMAN: Well, again, for me, Bob Nicholson from Hockey Canada called and asked me if I would participate. Hockey Canada has done so much for me not only as a player but in my role as a manager and executive with Hockey Canada, it was an opportunity for me to repay them, come and sit and listen, offer my input where I can.
Also I feel it's a great education for me to be involved in this type of concept that you learn a lot just by being there and you meet a lot of people, come up with a lot of great ideas.
Once again, I really feel like Hockey Canada has done so much for me. They asked me to come and be a part of it, I'm much obliged.
Q. Daniel, you talked about growing up in Sweden and moving to Ottawa. From what you know that's going on back now in Sweden now in terms of player development, how on par is the European development with the North American development? Look at what USA hockey has done, we know what Canada has done. How on par is that development? Can some player development stuff come out of this summit in terms of ideas for other European countries to follow along similar models essentially?
DANIEL ALFREDSSON: Like you said, U.S. has taken great strides the last three or four years, especially on the junior program. Canada has always been the leader. I think Sweden has been slipping. I don't know the exact numbers, but the registration for players has been down. The last few years we've been having better showings at the World Juniors.
I mean, I got asked a few weeks ago to be part of this. That's the good thing, that we get time here to prepare for these meetings. That's something I'm definitely going to talk to the Swedish Federation about, get more numbers, see how we compare with the other Federations, the other people, to see where Sweden stands, go from there.
I still have a lot of work before I'm ready for that meeting. But I think Sweden has been slipping a little bit.
Q. Brian, the U.S. development has been well-documented over the years. This year I think we're all seeing the results of that. Furthering along player development, is that a big topic coming out of this summit, just how the U.S. has done it, Canada? Can you speak on that at all?
BRIAN BURKE: Well, I think the way the game grows, I think our goal going in, and Daniel might disagree, Steve might disagree, we haven't rehearsed any of this, but I believe that hockey programs have to be designed to create hockey players for life. We get young boys and girls to play, to master the most difficult game in the world, and then play for life. That fan watches games on TV. That fan buys a ticket in Ottawa. That fan buys a ticket to watch Steve Yzerman play. That's my goal, to grow this game so people play it for life. I still play hockey with a bunch of old farts on Sundays. That's what I want.
Then if the base of the pyramid is big enough, elite athletes pick up a stick, you get a Daniel Alfredsson out of that group. We need to have programs that get kids playing and keep kids playing. But then we also need to have skill development and elite-level hockey starting at a young age so the true elite athlete can get to the top of the pile with proper instruction and practice and training.
To me, it's about all of those things. It's like I tell the parents all the time here. They think their kid is going to play in the NHL. I say, Look, assume he's not. Don't gear this experience for your son to make the National Hockey League because the odds are he's not going to. Gear it so he can play the game he loves until he can no longer play the game, and if he's good enough, we'll find him and he'll find us.
Q. Brian, you're talking about grassroots. There's been talk in the past, but expansion in Europe. I'm sure you will address it from both ends. If there is professional hockey, NHL-level hockey in Europe, will that help spur this? How likely is that?
BRIAN BURKE: Here's the problem. They talk about some Swedish teams good going into the KHL. It's one of the top elite leagues in the world. The games are exciting, the buildings are full, the playoffs are great. They continue to develop. Daniel said development is off in Sweden. I'm sure he's right statistically. But I will tell you for a country the size of Sweden, to have produced the number of wonderful hockey players, it's staggering. It puts what we're doing in the U.S. to shame and eclipses what we've done in Canada.
From my perspective, the issue is, first off, the economics of having an NHL team in Europe. Most of the buildings in Europe do not generate NHL economics. They don't have the seating capacity or the premium seating capacity or the big-ticket item capacity, suites and so on. That's the first issue. You put a team there, right away you're behind financially.
Second is the travel. You have to worry about the wear and tear on your players. We need four teams there. Now you need four buildings that generate NHL economics so when the Detroit Red Wings go, Steve Yzerman doesn't play four games in four nights. They stay there eight nights and play four games.
Even if all those things can be mastered, what does it do to the Swedish elite league? If it puts them out of business, why are we even talking about it? We should be talking about a way to make that league stronger and grow the product that way.
These are very complex issues. No one has a full set of answers. To me that's the one thing when you say people should put a team in Europe. I know a lot of Swedish players. If we put a team in Stockholm, what is that going to do to the teams in Stockholm? Are they going to be able to draw, sell tickets? What is it going to do to those teams?
DANIEL ALFREDSSON: I think Brian is right on. It sounds obviously very sexy to do it. It's very difficult to do. If you do it, it's got to be done absolutely right and you have to get it right because there's no room for error.
I think if it wouldn't work, it would be devastating to a lot of leagues. I like the way Europe and the national leagues they're having in the different countries, they've been trying something like the Champions League in soccer with European hockey, but there hasn't been enough money for teams to commit to it fully. Maybe that could be something that they can start within Europe, then you can find maybe a championship game.
I don't think anything will happen soon.
PAUL CARSON: Steve, do you have any thoughts on that?
STEVE YZERMAN: Again, I think in Europe the challenge is that each country has their own Federation and league. They want to protect that and develop their own players. I would agree with both Brian and Daniel with their points. I think we have to be really respectful and very careful of each individual country.
Europe, their programs have been done differently than North America. It's neither right nor wrong, it's just a different way of doing it. It's been set up that way. To come in and to set up leagues that would really set back the leagues within their own country would be a mistake. It's just not that simple a thing to do.
You're dealing with so many different Federations from each individual country. I think we have to be very careful and let each country develop their own players in their own system, much like Canada is and like the U.S. are.
We should share ideas and take ideas from all the different programs. The USA does things different than Canada. We're sitting there watching. They're very successful. We have to learn from what they're doing. Likewise, learn from Sweden, all the European countries learning from us.
Everybody is structured a little bit differently. We have to respect everyone's differences. Just can't go in and destroy what they've done for so many years.
Q. Brian touched on the expensive nature of the sport. We live in a depressed economy right now. How do you start going around making this sport more affordable?
BRIAN BURKE: I think in Toronto, first things first. We need places to play. As far as affordability to me, that is the second. It might be neck and neck, but it's clearly second. Doesn't matter if you have all the money in the world if you don't have rinks. We need to build and maintain rinks. The Leafs have a very aggressive rink refurbishment program. We've managed rejuvenate and renovate the arenas in Toronto.
There hasn't been a new ice arena within the city limits in 25 plus years, until the MasterCard Centre opened last year. We've stopped building rinks in Toronto. We haven't maintained the ones we have at a proper level. Number one for me is we have to keep finding places for kids to play.
That goes to my third point, which is alternatives. If we have a piece of property, we can't afford to build an ice rink, build a roller rink. Inline hockey is a wonderful development tool. We haven't utilized it properly in my opinion.
As far as affordability, then you get into how do we get ice time at a subsidized rate? Ice time at municipal rinks is still more reasonable than at privately owned rinks. What does ice time cost? Can you do an equipment recycling program where kids are able to use equipment that other players have outgrown but is still perfectly good in terms of safety. These are all things we have to look at.
DANIEL ALFREDSSON: Honestly, I have no idea. It's obviously a tough issue. It's an expensive one. I know in Sweden there's obviously not a lot of new rinks built as well. Ice time is hard to come by. It's tough to create. It's not like put a soccer field out there, you can get some land, grow some grass or dirt. It's tough. That's going to be a big challenge.
STEVE YZERMAN: I would just add to what Daniel said. I don't know that I have a solution. I know this is a conversation going on as far back as I can remember, that people have always felt that playing this sport, the cost to play it is really prohibitive. I don't know if there's ever a solution.
I do know the game, having arenas in communities is beneficial to the community. The responsibility lies on everyone, all the communities, to put arenas into their communities. Everybody should be involved in it from the equipment manufacturer on down, that everybody has a responsibility. It's just good business to make it affordable to grow your business and also to grow the game.
Ultimately you need kids playing it to sell equipment. For arenas, there has to be more cost-effective ways to develop and run them. Everybody goes into business to make a profit. At the end of the day you also have to grow your markets and take that into consideration.
Q. There were 112 games to win the Cup. You look at kids playing a lot of games. You get a burnout factor. What do we do? Are kids playing too many games? Is that one of the problems?
BRIAN BURKE: The too many games to me, this is where Europe always has had an edge over how we do it in North America. Daniel, please correct me if I've got this wrong. From long conversations with the Twins, Markus Naslund, the practice-to-game ratio is the key. I wouldn't mind if kids play 112 games. I think that's way too many. I'm making a point. If they had two practices for every game. An ideal thing, if you ask someone in hockey, the ideal ratio for a young player is three practices to one game. We'd kill to get two. But in fact it's 1-1 or less in youth hockey associations by the time a kid is a peewee. I think this is misguided.
I've ranted and raved about this. I think we should have more practice and fewer games. I think the parents are a big part of the problem. They don't want to watch a practice. They want to see Johnny with four other skaters, two referees and a linesman.
We can develop the skill at a much higher level. This is something I fought. I remember years ago we started a 4-4 league in the spring just to stop kids from the burnout factor of playing all that spring hockey, playing all those games, focusing on skill and fun. Enough parents weren't interested. They don't want to watch 4-4, 3-3, even if guys like me tell them it's important.
DANIEL ALFREDSSON: I totally agree with Brian. I've always been amazed since I came over here to Canada the amount of games the kids play. It's important to get ice time. You need to get on the ice to get better. But especially at a younger age, if you're a decent to average player, you're not going to touch the puck very many times in a game. In practices, everybody can have a puck each. You can do different drills to develop your skills.
The practice-to-game ratio I think needs to favor practice a lot more, no question. Like Brian said, too, parents like to watch games.
Q. Daniel, I guess it's inspired by the World Cup, the number of countries considered to have a shot at winning the whole thing. In international hockey you have your big six or seven. You look at the next tier, Germany, Switzerland. They had some encouraging results at the Olympics. Any ideas on what they might be able to do to try to get in the top group when it comes to international contenders?
DANIEL ALFREDSSON: Well, it's hard. I mean, Slovakia has I think come a long way. The Czechs are always dangerous. They create and develop extremely skilled players. Russia, they showed the last few World Championships they've had some really good teams as well. It's tough.
We don't have the same pool of players to pick from as especially Canada. Canada has done a great job of keeping ex-players involved, if it's not for the World Championships or Olympics. Like Steve is a great example, having people like him around in tournaments for the younger players coming in is invaluable.
I think the Federations in Europe haven't really done that as much. I think that's something they should look into, to be able to keep that experience within the organization and help the younger players coming up, no question.
Overall I think Europe is still doing a good job.
Q. Brian, you mentioned the economic challenges, things of that nature, as far as trying to get more kids involved with hockey here in the States. Do you have any thoughts about the initial obstacle for a lot of kids as far as hockey just not being part of their culture, African American, Latino kids? Do you have any thoughts on that?
BRIAN BURKE: Well, one thing that's really cool about hockey is it's always been open to anyone who wanted to play. I don't believe there's a racial stereotype or ban against playing. The color barrier in hockey was broken almost noiselessly. It didn't attract the same attention because African-Canadian players had been so successful at the pro level in the minors. So when Mr. O'Ree broke the barrier, it didn't attract anywhere near the attention of a Jackie Robinson. I don't agree with your basic premise.
But I will say this. There's two things that I think have spurred the growth of hockey in the United States. One is USA's hockey under-18 national hockey development program. I think that's been a marvelous development tool for us in terms of taking good players, putting them with other good players, hastening their development.
The other one is interest. What I think addresses it is the other factor has been the growth of minor league hockey. Wherever we put a minor league team down, Central League, East Coast team, non-traditional hockey markets, we plunk down a pro team, youth hockey flourishes and springs up.
Those two things to me, if you look at where the U.S. national team players are coming from, they're coming from 50 states, not just Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan, we have kids from Las Vegas, Texas, all different cities and states. Second-round picks from California. That's the exciting part to me. We have broken down a lot of geographic a barriers.
I don't think there's been ethnic barriers in our sport other than economic ones. I think your question is dead on in terms of is the game affordable for people across all spectrums. The answer is, in my opinion, no. What really complicates it, the first thing you want to do, it doesn't cost any money to go to a field with a soccer ball. It doesn't cost any money to take a basketball to a municipal court and shoot baskets. It doesn't take any money to throw passes to your buddy.
To play hockey, you need equipment, ice, it has to be organized. With global warming, we don't even get the outdoor opportunities we want. Then it's the hardest game to play by a mile. This eight-year-old kid shoots baskets. Probably the 10th or 12th basket he shoots, it's going to go in. But he can play hockey 20 times and not be able to skate around the rink without falling down.
It's a complex, difficult game. These are all factors. The reason we get such wonderful athletes that play this game, like Steve and Daniel, is the price you have to invest to become a great hockey player. You've got to put in so much to be a great hockey player, that's why we tend to get these humble, wonderful guys to play.
Q. Do you think the injury aspect of hockey might spook some parents from getting their kids involved? I know great safety measures have been taken. Where do you feel the risk factor would enter into it for parents?
DANIEL ALFREDSSON: I don't see the injury risk in hockey as very big for kids. I think they've taken great measurements throughout Europe and North America as well where there's no hitting in the beginning. You learn how to hit, hit correctly.
But like in any sport, you look at soccer, all the injuries leading up to the World Cup among pro players, hockey is a very hard sport to play, like Brian has been saying over and over again, and it's very fast. There's some big, strong people playing it. Obviously injury is going to be a part of it.
But from my perspective, I have three sons, the injuries at all doesn't come into the decision if they're going to play or not. Maybe if you haven't been involved with hockey before and you've been watching some pro games, I can see that. But I think that's unfounded.
PAUL CARSON: We'd like to wrap up. We've had a great call. We appreciate the participation of all the media, particularly of our summit leadership team starting with Hayley who got off the call early, but Steve Yzerman, Daniel Alfredsson, and Brian Burke. Thank you very much to everybody.
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