|IIHF President Rene Fasel (left), VANOC CEO John Furlong (centre) and Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson show their pucks at the hockey summit in Toronto on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Lyle Stafford)
Rene Fasel says he’s ready to work with the NHL, not for it.
The president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, a guest speaker Tuesday at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit at the Air Canada Centre, continued to advocate for NHL participation at the world championships leading to the 2014 Olymnpics in Sochi, Russia, but was deeply opposed to the North American pros setting up shop in Europe.
“Good luck, I will fight like hell for my territory,” Fasel told host Jim Hughson. “Give us (European leagues) some consideration. You are not alone. An NHL in Europe won’t play. As long as I’m sitting on my chair, it won’t happen.”
Expansion to Europe, or perhaps a champions league, is seen by some as inevitable as the world gets smaller. It’s a ripe market for the NHL, which is staging more and more season-opening exhibitions there. But the costs and logistics of an NHL division are still daunting in a region where hockey is not a nine-month season with NHL sized, broadscast friendly buildings.
Fasel made his comments after trying to woo the doubters in the audience about the merits of going to Sochi. Vancouver was a prime-time success, but there will be resentment in the NHL at shutting down business again for a few weeks for games that will be played at odd hours of the day back here.
Fasel basically said the people in Sochi and players in Europe should get the chance to match what Vancouver did, on and off the ice.
“I was watching the games in Calgary in 1988 (before becoming president) and there were only a couple of NHL guys. But I came back to my hotel and the NHL was still playing. That doesn’t happen in Europe. We should have the best players. In Nagano (1998) I was nearly crying when the Canadians, Americans and all the other countries came in (for the opening cermony).”
He dismissed suggestions from executives such as Maple Leafs’ president Brian Burke that NHLers be compensated to attend the international tourneys, such as the world championships. Fasel stated the IIHF spends millions in developing the game around the world, but is essentially non-profit. And he worries if the planned return of the World Cup every couple of non-Olympic years would diminish the IIHF’s precious world championships.
“In North America, you don’t understand what world championships mean,” Fasel lectured. “It’s a celebration, 400,000, or 500,000 fans at the end of the season. My friend Brian says you make too much money, you must give it back. But it’s not about money, it’s a (passion) thing.”
Philadelphia Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette wants a contract of sorts for minor hockey league players and coaches to show they understand what injury prevention is about. Laviolette is the father of two young boys who play in New Jersey.
“All NHL teams have to watch a video and sign off on the fact they did watch it and send it back to the league,” Laviolette said. “The same (standard) should be held for the guy who is coaching my children.
“The best way to teach at any level, through kids and the NHL, is through watching (like) when the NHL wants to discuss hits to the head and how to prevent them. Something should be put in place for the kids to watch and see what’s legal and what’s not. The kids sign off on it, be it a DVD or a download from the web, and send it back to their governing bodies.”
Laviolette and Brendan Shanahan were among the NHL panelists at the Summit calling for a moratorium on body checking for kids.
“I agree with the doctors; we should really put the body checking off,” said Shanahan, the NHL’s new vice-president of hockey and business operations. “It’s a skill you can adopt at a later age. They didn’t have it when I was a kid (in the MTHL). My teammate was Bryan Marchment and he didn’t have it, but he turned out to be a great body checker.
“A very small percentage of these kids will make it to the NHL or even play at the collegiate level. Player safety and skill development is more important. You can’t compare what happens in the NHL, a league of professional men, to what happened with eight and nine-year-olds. You can’t even compare minor hockey leagues in some countries."
Laviolette lamented that one of his sons was born on Dec. 19, which usually puts him at a disadvantage as the smallest on his minor hockey team back in new jersey. Fellow hockey parent Shanahan sympathized, but joked to the Hockey Summit crowd that ‘I guess I can’t get romantic on Valentine’s Day... or even St. Patrick’s Day’.
Shanahan advises that a steady 12-month diet of hockey is not the way to a successful NHL career for kids.
“I think it’s a mistake,” the veteran winger said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint and I’d be worried about a burnout. I think it’s very important to have an off-season, not that you have to put your skates away, but there has to be a definite difference between the start of the season and the end, to frame a season and get some rest, then come back with a fresh mind and body.”