Tom Renney, the president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada, said Friday that he would love to get most 16-year-olds out of junior hockey.
For the most part, the 60-year-old native of Cranbrook said, they aren’t physiologically or emotionally ready to play against older players, some of whom are 20 or even 21 years of age.
Instead, Renney suggested, perhaps a midget super league’s time has come.
“We have a capacity because of the number of players who fall into that category,” he said, “of having a heck of a midget league in Canada. However that manifests itself, I’m not sure . . . whether it’s provincial, regional or national, I‘m not sure.”
Renney, who took over the Hockey Canada position on July 15, 2014, has been in Kamloops as part of Scotiabank’s Hockey Day in Canada celebrations.
Looking comfortable and relaxed, Renney, who coached the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers to the 1992 Memorial Cup championship, chatted while in the office out of which the 2016 IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championship is being run. It is scheduled to be held in Kamloops, from March 28 through April 4, and, yes, he will be here for it.
Renney explained that the NHL has a North American Development Model and there have been at least three meetings held to discuss it. In those meetings, the 16-year-old situation has been broached, as has the possibility of the NHL going back to a 19-year-old draft. At present, any player who turns 18 by Sept. 15 of the draft year is eligible to be selected.
“A bunch of us have gathered . . . and talked about the game . . . where it is, where it can go, how we get it to where it needs to be,” Renney said. “That age demographic (16 years of age) certainly came up there as well. For me, I would love to see . . . 16-year-olds being untouchable.”
Asked if that meant not having 16-year-olds playing junior hockey, Renney said: “Maybe there is this exceptional player thing . . . we almost have to.”
In Renney’s mind, how important is it to get 16-year-olds out of junior hockey?
“I think it would really improve our game,” he said. “It’s probably the most key component of our development model . . . protecting that age level right there.”
He paused and added: “And if we can ever get the National Hockey League to raise the draft age to 19. . . .”
That, too, has been discussed in the afore-mentioned meetings, Renney said. He pointed out, too, that Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, “has sat in on those meetings,” along with the likes of Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, and Colin Campbell, the NHL’s executive vice-president and director of hockey operations.
“In that room,” Renney said, “for three hours, we talk about that.”
When it was suggested that the NHL might claim it can’t revert to a 19-year-old draft for legal reasons, Renney said that he hasn't seen any signs of that happening.
“I can’t say that they wouldn’t,” Renney said. “But it has never presented itself as an impediment in those discussions. We’ve really tried to leave any barriers out of that and talk about what’s good for the game.
“Football players . . . .there aren’t any 18-year-old football players playing in the NFL. So if you want to talk legalities, at the end of the day let’s do what’s right for the longevity of (hockey), the protection of the player and being able to perpetuate the interest in the sport.”
When Renney made the move to Hockey Canada, it caught a lot of people by surprise, primarily because he was seen as a career coach. But if you look into his background he did pick up a lot of front-office experience along the way.
Prior to signing on to coach the Blazers during the summer of 1990, Renney had been working in Victoria as the B.C. Amateur Hockey Association’s provincial project co-ordinator. He had walked away from the head-coaching position with the junior A Penticton Knights without coaching a game in order to take that position.
The cold feet, he said, had a lot to do with having a wife, Glenda, and “two little girls,” Jessica and Jamie, and feeling a need for security.
However, when Ken Hitchcock, who had coached the Blazers for six seasons but was going pro, called to see if Renney wanted to move to Kamloops, well . . .
“When I hung up the phone,” Renney said, “I said to my wife: ‘We’re moving. We’re going to coach.’ ”
He later had coaching stints in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings. In between, he spent a lot of time working with Hockey Canada, either in coaching or as vice-president of hockey operations. Because his recent history wasn’t limited exclusively to hockey, the learning curve as Hockey Canada’s No. 1 guy has been tenable.
“The learning curve has still been extensive and I love that,” Renney said. “I’ve never been afraid to learn. I’ve never been afraid to admit that which I don’t know . . . and that’s significant.”
As Hockey Canada’s president and CEO, Renney, according to the news release announcing his appointment, oversees “all elements of the organization, including hockey development programs, high performance programs, corporate sales, events and marketing, licensing, insurance and regulations, membership services, operations and communications.”
Because he has so much on his plate, he hasn’t had time to miss coaching. He last was behind a bench in 2013-14 as an associate coach, alongside head coach Mike Babcock, in Detroit.
“I’m so busy that I haven’t had a chance to really think about it,” Renney said. “When I see colleagues that I worked with or had a certain relationship with standing behind a bench doing their thing that night, I reminisce. I don’t get a chance to watch a lot of NHL now because of my travel, but when I do I harken back obviously to the coaching career. When the playoffs started last spring, that kind of reminded me of how much I enjoyed it.
“But this job is do diverse, with so much going on, I very, very seldom think about coaching as my profession. I think of coaching, but only how I can make it better . . . how I can help guys get to where they want to, how I can get more females participating in the leadership of the women’s game from a coaching perspective?”
Being able to make a difference like that is perhaps the main reason why Renney left coaching — he had a year left on his contract with the Red Wings — to run Hockey Canada.
As he explained: “Our daughters live in Calgary. We still had a home there. We talked it over for a day or so, my wife and I, and decided that at this stage of my life if I could do anything else in the game that might be my best body of work it was time to make the move.
“As many did tell me, it might be the best job in hockey.”
He paused and chuckled.
“I know I’m undefeated,” he said.
February 25, 2016 06:28pm
Robert penner says:
February 5, 2016 09:50pm
Personally when i was involved in minor hockey there was too much politic and favouritism once there was elite and super division teams.
If you want you kid to be in these leagues send them to a hockey acadamey..
Like you guy always like to spout "let them have fun". But then develop these different leagues to spoil it.
Sorry for the lack of spell check.