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Hockey Canada boss stickhandles tricky issues


Long-time Hockey Canada staffer Scott Smith takes over from Tom Renney as president of the organization on July 1. Renney will remain chief executive officer, while Smith keeps the title of chief operating officer, a job he’s held since 2007. The Star sat down with Smith to discuss the future of the sport — from the grassroots level to the Olympics:

Hockey’s an expensive sport. How do you address that so that every Canadian kid gets a chance to play?

What we’re trying to do is increase the number of programs that make entry to the game easier. So, through partnerships with Canadian Tire and Bauer, we’re into our third year of First Shift. We’ve had thousands of kids register. For $ 200, they get equipment head to toe and they get a six-week hockey experience. It’s not a full season, but it’s a good entry. Kids can play and decide if they want to stay. Our branches (provinces) support learn-to-play programs, equipment exchanges. There are programs to make the financial commitment — especially for the early ages — less significant.

Do you track the kids coming into the game and compare it to soccer and basketball, which are making inroads?

We’re making improvements on how we track those analytics. We do our numbers. We provide a year-end report to our provincial branches. We can tell how many first-year members they have and how many kids didn’t re-register.

The players on Team Canada do not reflect the cultural diversity of Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver. It’s a white sport. How do you reach out to new Canadians and other communities and draw them into the game?

I don’t know if we’ll ever feel we’ve done everything in that regard. What we’ve tried to do is to make inroads with a number of different ethnic communities and expose the game. We have a fairly significant floor-ball program as one of our school initiatives. We have youth books that are targeted at reaching different communities, different languages and start to create a little bit of interest in hockey, which eventually will translate into being a fan, and eventually playing.

How much government funding do you get?

Five to seven per cent of our total budget. Some of that is targeted to Olympic participation — men’s, women’s and sledge. Some of it is Sport Canada’s commitment to fund the operation of sports. Some of it is targeted towards coaching and officiating development.

Do you hope the NHL goes to the Olympics?

I do, because I believe Canadians are very interested in best-on-best competition. I do hope and I’m optimistic that will continue.

Is there a plan B?

There’s always a plan B just to make sure we’re prepared. Our plan A is having the best players there.

Hockey Canada is a big organization, employs a lot of people, and whether you’re deemed a success or a failure often comes down to the success of two volunteers: your goalies. How do you take that?

Wow, that’s some question. I would hope our organization is broad enough in its responsibilities that people would look at us and say there are a number of things that go into making us successful, and a number of things we have to improve on. We don’t judge the full scope of our organization on any particular player, position or team.

TORONTO STAR | SPORTS

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