This morning at the St. Paul RiverCenter, the Herb Brooks Foundation assembled a panel of the leaders in the hockey community to discuss issues and solutions surrounding player safety in ice hockey at all levels. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness in the hockey community about the issues facing the game and to discuss possible solutions. Each of the 13 panelists introduced themselves and provided a brief history of their invovlement in the game.
Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, made the opening remarks and told about his experiences playing hockey as a youth, high school and Division 1 player at Yale College.
The panelists were representatives of Division 1 college hockey, high school coaches, the Minnesota State High School League, the medical community, USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey representing the youth game.
As I listened and participated in the discussions my conclusions were that there is agreement in the hockey community that there needs to changes to the game that restores respect and creates an environment where all players can learn, develop and have fun. The days of intimidation and "Goon" hockey are over and skills are where we need to focus our energies along with broad based education for parents, players, coaches and officials. As Neil Sheehy, NHL player agent, pointed out there needs to be an on going effort at education in the youth ranks and that the NHL should take the lead and eliminate much of the violence and unnecsessary body contact.
The problems are easy to identify at all levels but solving them is a much bigger challenge. The group agreed that we need better injury data at all levels, better officiating, better coaching, and a renewed committment to protect the game . Minnesota Hockey has been a leader in these efforts and will continue to do so.
This event was well attended by the media and hopefully will trigger more serious dialogue at all levels of hockey. Although there were no specific solutions proposed I am certain each of the attendees on the panel and the audience left with some new ideas and thoughts to carry back to their respective organizations.
The event was held as part of the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament which is reported to be the largest event of it's type in the nation. Over 125,000 spectators will fille the Xcel Energy center over the 4 days this weekend and many of the games will be televised.