Dan Pollard: Is it a true passion that attracted you to the game and this position?
Tom Renney: I have had an unbelievable experience within the game. I can name each of the coaches I had growing up by name still and those that volunteered in those days made the rink a destination for me. I have always felt the need to do the same thing and pay that volunteerism forward. To help the game as it helped me. I think now it is more so a labour of love than ever before because of the position I am in.
DP: What attracted you to Hockey Canada and this position?
TR: I think it was my passion. I loved coaching in the NHL, I loved the people I worked with and the opportunity I was provided. It was great to be around the best players in the world and a great experience to work with everyone on staff in all the places I coached. I always felt it was incumbent on me to give back and make sure my legacy and my best body of work quite honestly is from now until I’m done. That is to leave the game in the best possible shape I can and to make sure we improve upon an incredible citizenship already by making hockey very much a part of that.
DP: You took the role in 2014, what is your biggest impression since joining Hockey Canada in your current role?
TR: It’s a big country, an even bigger demographic and every province is a constituent of Hockey Canada and a champion of the game. Each branch has deeply committed people that love the game for the right reasons. The level of passion that Canadians have for the game of hockey and for doing the right things for the game is awfully impressive. With that said, there are still a lot of obstacles in our game that we need to address and I like to embrace those things as my personal challenge and something that drew me to this position.
DP: What would you say is your primary role with Hockey Canada?
TR: I think first and foremost is to lead by example, to love the game just by living it and moving within it every day, not just talking it. I think at the end of the day my primary role as I see it and the pressure I feel is on continuing to grow the game and get youngsters into the game for all the right reasons. I think there is always pressure to win gold medals at the national level and that is true, but for me it is vitally important we get children into hockey and they stay in it for a lifetime.
DP: Would you say the role you are in now has changed since Bob Nicholson took over in 1998. I look back at Hockey Canada back then and there was a need to set a business model and make it a business. Certainly Bob was great at that, and not that he ignored any other aspect of the job, but has the role changed over the years?
TR: It is, but only because it’s a combination of what I think are two absolute necessitates in growing the game and again growing our citizenship. It required a business model to achieve that goal, and not just strong leadership from Bob but all the staff and volunteers across the country. Building the business model was important and making that connection to corporate Canada was essential in order to grow the game. With that now in place, my job is, at the very least, maintaining that and hopefully growing those partnerships but now I get an opportunity to bring it back to home row and talk about children playing hockey and why hockey is viable and necessary in the development of our youth. It allows me to come back to what it’s all about in the first place and that’s children playing.
DP: When you take a position such as this you tend to have an idea of how you would like to move the organization forward as well. What are your key priorities that form your long term vision for Hockey Canada?
TR: I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that people feel safe in the game or being active in any sport in Canada for that matter. Number one is to maintain the participation level we have in Canada and improve upon that. The term seems to be recruitment nowadays but the bottom line is just appeal. Appeal to children and families for the right reasons and that is because hockey is safe, it’s fun, the rink is a community destination and maybe most importantly, it teaches character and other life skills. We need to make sure we appeal to new Canadians. I don’t know of another demographic that wants to be part of Canada than those that are new to it and for me, what better mechanism than through hockey. The bottom line is getting kids active.
I think coaching certification and adult leadership in general is important. When you think about it, if we continue to certify coaches and I know that sometimes becomes cumbersome, there is a lot asked of them, there is a lot of detail involved, sometimes four or five days of a seminar or clinic. We have to think of it as a whole community becoming better because the coach took the initiative and responsibility of coaching seriously enough to get certified and bring that experience back to the entire community and not just their hockey team.
DP: I have always argued that coaches are actually teachers and people look at you strange when you say that but I look at it in that you are teaching a sport as opposed to math or science but the same methods apply.
TR: I agree. I think there is a moral obligation as an adult leader as a parent and a coach to do the right thing. There is an ethical path that you have to take and I think the coaching certification program is second to none in the world because we pay close attention to things like Respect in Sport and safety issues that involved in the game. We have paid close attention to abuse that can happen in sport and are leading the world in making sure that we educate parents to that end. I can safely say that I don’t know an amateur body that does a better job than we do when it comes to concussion protocol and safety in general.
DP: You talk about the size of the country and it is enormous. How difficult is it to get everyone on the same page?
TR: It is hard and that is the beauty of the role. One of the biggest reasons why we exist at Hockey Canada is to create those guardrails. If you don’t have structure, it becomes a free for all. There is an awful lot at stake here if the game gets mismanaged and the game is very delicate and at times creates issues. I believe everyone in this country has the best intention at heart every single time they go to the rink and that’s’ a great starting point. What we have to understand though is that there is a way to do this that allows autonomy and latitude but requires some type of regulation in order for it to be a safe place. All we want to do is take care of the most important component of the game and that’s the child.
DP: One of those subjects you talk about is body contact. That is certainly been a huge debate over the years and has some regional opponents and some supporters when it comes to making changes.
TR: There is lots of reasons to argue both sides of that debate. At the end of the day there is a psychological, emotional, physiological component to all of this and we have to pay attention to that. When I look at trying to get kids into the game of hockey and if body contact is introduced too early, that might satisfy a few but it may dissatisfy an awful lot more. If you retain great athletes in the game and have an appropriate time to introduce body contact into the game at the right age and skill level. The studies suggest that it belongs where we have it now. People can argue that and that’s fine. When you enter into the competitive stream, body contact becomes a skill. As you continue on to the recreational stream, I’m not sure it’s required at all.
DP: Which is where you step in as a national body, like you said and be those guiderails and offer up the information and direction.
TR: Right, we certainly support all of our branches and minor hockey associations with as much information as we can provide. Those same volunteers and staff members dig and drill down hard in doing that same research which is important. At the end of the day, we are not big brother out there trying to mandate the game to a standstill. All we are trying to do is make it appealing for all the right reasons and keep it safe so that those that choose to play are in the right environment.
Breakaway, the minor hockey podcast puts you in alone with some of the best and brightest minds in the game today. Each week, Dan Pollard sits down with the leaders of hockey to discuss everything from scoring more goals to how to grow the game. Subscribe to the Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, PlayerFM, SoundCloud or wherever you consume your podcasts.