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Comparing the Best Hockey Nation's Development Models

By Dan Pollard, 02/13/18, 3:30PM EST


Breakaway Podcast presented by Dodge Caravan Kids

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OMHA grad Robert Thomas on this year's World Juniors team.

In the lead up to the recent World Juniors tournament, Sunaya Sapurji began to a look at how the players were developed across the nations competing. It became clear as she interviewed the leaders in each country’s hockey governing body that many of the federations had almost the same guiding principles for their programs. It was in their development models themselves or in the challenges they are experiencing where they differed.

Sapurji is the assistant managing editor of The Athletic Toronto. She has previously worked as a junior hockey reporter and editor for the Toronto Star and Yahoo Sports. She recently wrote a seven part series title ‘Grassroots to Gold’ where she examined five of the best hockey nation’s development models. You can find the series on

If you look at the tournament year over year, other countries have really caught up with Canada in their development according to Sapurji.

“You’re seeing countries like Sweden, the US, Finland, Russia, they’re right there with Canada every year. There really is a lot of parity,” said Sapurji. “Even if you look at the countries that have won the World Juniors the last few years, it’s very difficult to see a back-to-back winner.”

There hasn’t been a repeat winner at the World Juniors since Canada won five in a row from 2005 to 2009, proving just how even the playing field has become.

There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to creating the best development model for a country. From population to geography to the number of registered players, each nation presents a different set of challenges and are trying a number of solutions.

OMHA grad Conor Timmins as a member of Team Canada.

In Sweden, for example, Sapurji says they are trying to ‘invert the pyramid’. What that means is instead of focusing on the one percent of players who make it to the NHL, the country is concentrating on the 99 percent to try and make the sport more enjoyable for kids. By keeping players engaged in hockey, the goal is to have them continue playing the sport well into adulthood.

“Sweden last year got rid of their standings for the under-13 level. There are no standings kept and there are no individual stats kept because they want to focus more so on development and not as much on winning. Sometimes when you’re focused so much on winning, you kind of get away from what the process should be and that is development. It was very controversial in Sweden and I thought it was an interesting idea. It only happened last summer so I’m interested to see how that pans out for them because I don’t know if that would fly here.”

The way minor hockey is organized in North American compared to Europe offers different pathways of development as well. Sapurji describes the Canadian model as more of a ‘free market’, where players go from their minor hockey teams to the OHL, mixed with goalie coaches and skating coaches in between. In Europe, players are ‘self-contained’ within clubs and they play all of their minor hockey with the same team and all the development is provided within the organization.

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Dan Pollard is the host of Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast. His passion for hockey led him to volunteer as a coach and administrator while his professional career has allowed him to cover the game at various levels with CBC, Sportsnet, the NHL Network and TSN. You can currently hear Dan every morning on 105.5 Hits FM in Uxbridge.

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