Scott Smith replaces retiring Tom Renney as Hockey Canada chief executive officer

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CALGARY — Hockey Canada executed an uncomplicated succession plan in its leadership, naming Scott Smith the next chief executive officer to replace the retiring Tom Renney.

Renney and Smith have worked side-by-side since Renney's appointment to president and chief executive officer in 2014.

Renney handed the role of president to Smith, who was also Hockey Canada's chief operating officer, five years ago while continuing as CEO.

Smith, a 55-year-old from Bathurst, N.B., will hold the dual roles of president and CEO starting July 1 in his 28th year in the organization.

"You gave me front row seats to all the activity of a CEO and you certainly prepared me for this day," Smith told Renney at Wednesday's news conference in Calgary.

One of Canada's largest amateur sporting organizations, Hockey Canada oversees the sport from the grassroots of roughly 3,500 minor hockey associations to the management of the country's Olympic men's and women's hockey teams.

"On any given winter night in this country, there are thousands of games and practices," Smith said.

"We can't promise perfect, but we certainly can promise a constant drive to be better, and more importantly, make every Canadian feel welcome to a safe and inclusive environment."

Hockey registration numbers in Canada plummeted by almost half from 606,000 in 2020 to 385,000 in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the organization's annual reports.

"We need to do everything we can to make sure we're getting our registration back," Smith said. "We need to make sure we're providing support to local hockey volunteers. They're the ones who have held it together.

"When a young lady or a young man signed up to be the volunteer president of a local minor hockey association, they were not thinking that they signed on to be dealing with all of the challenges, the polarizing opinions and the emotions that came in trying to get kids back on the ice."

As international sport went largely dark in 2020 because of the pandemic, Hockey Canada managed to get the world men's under-20 championship over the finish line under strict protocols from December 2020 to January, 2021.

"When we ended up cancelling the hockey season, I think it was Friday, March 13 of 2020, the following Monday we assembled our leadership team," Smith recalled. "We were all virtual and we were all looking at each other on the screen and we were like 'who are we going to look to provide some advice and some experience?'

"The fact none of us had experience, we worked our way through it. We were the first national sport organization to pull off the hosting of an international event and we were able to preserve the revenues for Hockey Canada and we were able to pass on some of that relief to our membership because they were managing some financial challenges."

Under less strict protocols that could not hold off the Omicron variant, the 2022 junior men's tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer that opened Dec. 26, 2021, was called off after five days as because of virus outbreaks.

The tournament has been rescheduled for August in Edmonton.

After the women's world championship was cancelled twice in Nova Scotia, Hockey Canada staged it last August in Calgary where the host country won gold. Canada's women won Olympic gold in Beijing less than six months later.

Renney, a former NHL head coach with the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, replaced Bob Nicholson, who was Hockey Canada's president and CEO for 16 years.

Renney said he began contemplating retirement a year ago. The 67-year-old from Cranbrook, B.C., became emotional in handing the baton to Smith.

"Because of your leadership, I know what we're in for," Renney said. "You will understand and honour diversity, equity and inclusion.

"You will deliver on the growth of this game through every volunteer, every staff person, everyone who ever played the game and those wishing to because of your experience, your sense of logic, your grasp of the moment.

"This, and how you treat and grow people, this will be your legacy."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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