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Tom Renney is now the new face of hockey in Canada.
On Tuesday afternoon in Calgary, the former assistant coach of the Detroit Red Wings was named as the new president of Hockey Canada, replacing Bob Nicholson. Nicholson, who held the post since 1998, retired in May and became the new vice-president of the Oilers Entertainment Group.
Renney will have big shoes to fill as Nicholson has left Hockey Canada as one of the most successful and preeminent members of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The challenges have already started.
“I was challenged just finding the office today,” said Renney, joking with reporters on a conference call.
“Our mandate is to make hockey the experience that it should be and at the end of the day that’s growing outstanding people that contribute to society… that’s a very broad brush, but I want to make sure everybody grows from the experience of hockey and that we do so by doing the right thing.”
Renney, the former head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers, has extensive experience with the international game. The 59-year-old was first part of the Hockey Canada program back in 1992 when he coached the Canadian national team. In the time since, he’s helmed a number of teams for Hockey Canada in various capacities – including the men’s Olympic team and world championship teams. He’s also had experience in junior hockey, having coached the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers to a Memorial Cup title in 1992 and the world junior side to a silver medal in 1999.
“We’re a big organization and a complex organization now and leadership is so critical,” said Jim Hornell, chairman of the Hockey Canada board of directors. “Just how it is whether you’re a head coach or a CEO in industry you have to be able to communicate and you have to have a values base that comes across when you interact with people and Tom Renney has all those things. His level of preparation for our interviews shows that this guy had a real passion for not only the sport, but for our organization in general.”
Nicholson started his tenure with Hockey Canada at the amateur level as the vice-president of programs with the then-Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Unlike Nicholson, Renney lacks the grassroots organizing on his resume, which is a big part of the job when you consider all the different levels of hockey the governing body oversees.
One of the biggest challenges Renney, a native of Cranbrook, B.C., will face is trying to grow the game. Recently Hockey Canada has seen either flat or declining numbers in terms of enrollment.
The increasing costs and safety – particularly concussion awareness – are two of the major reasons many parents are declining to put their children in the sport. In June, Solutions Research Group released a study in which hockey was ranked as the second-most expensive sport for Canadian children – averaging $1,666 per year per child. Hockey was also sixth in terms of what parents perceived was a sport “easy to be injured participating in.”
“We’ve got to make sure that new Canadians, immigrants to the country, get an opportunity to embrace hockey as quickly as possible with as little cost to them as possible,” said Renney. “I know there are all kinds of programs throughout Hockey Canada’s domain where equipment is delivered to those that are somewhat underprivileged or maybe don’t have access to the game like others do.
“At the end of the day we’ll do everything we possibly can to make sure that those who have trouble accessing the game (because of) funds get an opportunity to access it some way through a network of finances.”
Chief Operating Officer Scott Smith, who has been with Hockey Canada since 1997, will continue to run the business side of the organization – something he’s been very good at. It has been under the guidance of Smith that Hockey Canada has grown into a multi-million-dollar enterprise through TV rights deals with TSN, lucrative sponsorship deals and most importantly the hosting of various championships in Canada – including next year’s world juniors in Toronto and Montreal.
Smith has the business acumen Renney does not, but given his hockey experience the pair should be able to mesh well together to lead Hockey Canada.
Another one of the touchy issues Renney will have to navigate in his new role will be the inclusion of NHL players at the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Having been a part of the process as a coach, he said he’d welcome the idea of having NHLers participate but that his voice would not be the only one.
“I’ve had some experience with that at the very least and I feel comfortable with it,” said Renney. “ I’d feel more comfortable with it to play best-on-best with our partnerships that we have…. far be it from be to speculate that far down the road.
“The bottom line is, I would feel comfortable with that mandate if it were to come to pass, but it’s so speculative that I don’t want to go much further than that.”