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1999: Summit hopes to restore Canada's hockey supremacy

media clip
It's been called "Canada's game," but many Canadians think we're no longer tops in hockey. Enter "Open Ice," a three-day conference on the future of Canadian hockey. Big names Wayne Gretzky and Ken Dryden, as well as minor players and their parents, are discussing how to develop better hockey players. In this CBC news clip, Gretzky says it may be time for a simpler approach: to "grab a puck and try to get it in the net."
• The focus of Open Ice, a one-time event, was to explore ways to improve the way young players in Canada are trained as they move up through the minor hockey system.
• Wayne Gretzky was honorary chair of the summit. He told the Globe and Mail that more practice time and fewer games would produce better players, as would teaching kids to play creatively, to try other sports, and to handle the puck more.

• Gretzky said player development in Canada in 1999 wasn't too different from that of his own childhood. "But," he added, "the problem is magnified now because of the infusion of Europeans into the NHL. They weren't in the league in the 1960s and 1970s."
• A large influx of European players into the NHL began after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Powerful players from former Soviet republics, as well as skilled Swedes and Finns, broke Canadians' dominance in the league.

• The summit was also prompted in part because Canada's men's team failed to make the podium at the 1998 winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The Czech Republic won the gold, Russia took the silver and Finland finished with the bronze.
• Women's hockey was a new event at the 1998 Games, and Canada's team lost to the United States in the gold medal game.

• In 1999, Canadian players accounted for 61 per cent of the NHL roster. Another 24 per cent were European and 15 per cent were American.
• However, only three out of the 12 finalists for that year's top four NHL awards - 25 per cent - were Canadian. In 1998, two Canadians and 10 Europeans were named as finalists.
• Europeans also dominated the 1999 entry draft. Of the 28 first-round picks, only nine were Canadian.

• "The real challenge to reforming the system," wrote Globe and Mail analyst William Houston, "is persuading parents, volunteer coaches and administrators that reform is needed."
• According to Houston, young Canadians were learning to play "conservative, defensive hockey" that restricted creativity and encouraged aggression.
• In minor hockey, a player with average skills could expect to control the puck for only 45 seconds during a game.

• An enduring initiative that resulted from Open Ice was the Bell Skills First Challenge hosted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Each year, the team invites nine- and 10-year-old players to participate in a skills competition at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
• By the 2005-2006 season, the proportion of Canadian players in the NHL had dropped to about 55 per cent. Europeans were up to 30 per cent, and American-born players remained unchanged at 15 per cent.

Also on August 25:
1878: The first newspaper in Saskatchewan is published. Patrick Laurie in Battleford publishes the "Saskatchewan Harold".
1919: E.L. Richardson and Guy Weadick open the Calgary Victory Stampede, sponsored by Pat Burns, A.E. Cross, George Lane and A.J. McLean, who financed the first Stampede in 1912. The event had been cancelled during the First World War.
1994: St. Mary's, Ont. is selected as the home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1838 the first recorded baseball game in Canada was played in Beachville, Ont., near St. Mary's.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Aug. 25, 1999
Guest(s): Julie Brown, Ken Dryden, Frank Godfrey, Wayne Gretzky, Arlene Nadeau
Host: Alison Smith
Reporter: Tom Harrington
Duration: 2:46
This clip was edited for copyright reasons.

Last updated: November 22, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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