What to expect from Hockey Summit
TORONTO -- Just so you know, there's no pot of gold at the end of the World Hockey Summit.
This wasn't a Hollywood production. There was no neat, happy ending or a "Ah, so that's what this was all about" defining moment.
Not that there weren't plenty of moments to remember from the four-day event, but if you're looking for something that offers tangible proof this first of its kind gathering achieved something, well, perhaps you'll be disappointed.
Or maybe there is evidence of the summit's value, just in places you might not have expected. Like at breakfast.
On Monday, Slavomir Lener, a former Czech coach now in charge of junior development in the Czech Republic, tore into the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella group that oversees the three major junior leagues in North America, for essentially plundering the top teenage talent in Europe.
It was the kind of presentation that may have made it difficult to make nice afterward, but there was the head of the CHL, Dave Branch, chatting with Lener at a reception after the discussion. They had breakfast together the next morning.
"And you know what? We're leaving here now as friends," Branch told ESPN.com in an interview as the summit wrapped up Thursday. "I had breakfast with him the next morning and I really wanted to hear from him as to what's going on in the Czech [Republic], in Slovakia and various parts of European hockey circles, and it was very insightful and a better understanding and we're planning to meet again in September."
Coming into the event, it's fair to say no one knew exactly what to expect.
Just getting a cast of participants that included NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, Tampa Bay Lightning GM (and Hall of Famer) Steve Yzerman, top European coaches and managers, top women players and coaches and officials from major junior hockey, USA Hockey and the NCAA is a kind of feat in itself.
But this wasn't an exercise in trying to see how many hockey people you could jam into a phone booth.
"I've been really, really pleased with the whole event. I was concerned that maybe we were trying to do too much, and in saying that, I was also concerned we weren't doing enough because everyone has an agenda for our great game," said Branch, who was on the steering committee for the summit. "I'm not so sure there's ever been a gathering of so many great minds in our game in one place at one time, and that's positive for our game.
"Hopefully it will lead to similar types of forums where the major players in our game off the ice do get together and try and address maybe some specific issues for the purpose of growing and getting better."
Sure, there may have been a few hiccups.
The top official for NCAA hockey, Paul Kelly, wasn't in attendance, although the head of the CCHA, Tom Anastos, was. Next time around, it might be nice to have the NCAA as a part of the steering committee and see that familiar logo up on the banners along with those of Hockey Canada, USA Hockey and the NHL. But USA Hockey had a hand in organizing the summit, so the American hockey scene was well represented in Toronto.
Having said that, the summit really did reflect the global element of the game.
"This should not have been a forum where the thing is all U.S. and Canadians up there and we invite the world and we tell them, 'Here's how you got to do it,'" said Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey's executive director. "That's not the right way to do it. I think there was the proper balance and the proper level of interactivity because we didn't come here only wanting to tell people about all of the good things we're doing. We came here to learn from other people too and some of that has happened."
There were moments of arid talk, but that was the exception, not the rule. And part of what made the discussion so lively was the emotion that often accompanied the ideas. We listened as Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette talked about the struggles of trying to help his young sons learn about body-checking (one of them suffered a concussion last year). He spoke not as an NHL coach with a Stanley Cup ring or a man who coached at the Olympics, but rather as a parent worried about his kids getting hurt playing a game they love.
"You have people from Gary Bettman to some guy who is an assistant minor hockey coach in Alberta, so it really runs the whole gamut," Ogrean said of the summit's diverse audience. "But what really pleases me is I don't know how we could have had more engagement from the audience. All the sessions were full. And when they go to the interactive components, people are participating, they're asking questions, they're introducing themselves, they're putting ideas down on paper. You just don't see a lot of functions like this where there seems to be that level of engagement about all the topics."
What will come of this?
This isn't like the NHL's research and development camp that preceded the summit and drew a lot of media attention. That was hands-on stuff; you could see it on the ice and touch it and debate it. Like this. Don't like that. The summit was a little more esoteric. Still, the sentiment seems to be that there was more than enough "I like this" to suggest another summit wouldn't be a bad idea.
Maybe four years from now after the 2014 Sochi Olympics is too soon. Maybe there'll be an obvious need to do it again that soon.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he wouldn't be surprised to see something that was discussed at this summit implemented at the NHL level down the road.
"It's clearly met our expectations," he said.