Growing the women’s game, Part II

At least one person is confident there’s no threat to the Olympic status of women’s hockey.

Luckily, that person is Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation.

That’s a decent bit of power.

“No, I don’t think there’s a threat,” he said following last night’s Hot Stove Sessions at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

n276855599228_1407“If we move women’s hockey out, it will be a huge loss for the Olympic movement.”

You know who agrees with that, right?

Yup, Hayley Wickenheiser – captain of the Olympic gold-medal winning Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. A three-time gold-medal winner and the first woman to score a goal in a professional men’s hockey game, the topic is dear to her heart.

In fact, mention to her women’s hockey and the tenuous relationship it seems to have with the Olympics and a fire sparks in her eyes.

“If you take women’s hockey out of the Olympics, it hurts the game globally,” she said. “That’s 160 positions for women athletes and that doesn’t send a very positive message.”

Especially consider women are a huge part of the decision-making process in each family, she says – from the family purchases to whether or not Little Tommy or Tammy can play the game. They’re even playing the game, too, as many women – beyond the competitive players – are heading out to the rink for their own rec-league games.

But developing the game locally in Canada isn’t a great challenge, unless you’re talking about the ice times girls’ and women’s hockey are often forced to endure.

It’s planting the seed globally and growing interest in the European and Asian countries.

One might think girls in Sweden, Finland or Russia might be anxious to strap on the blades and start crunching each other into the boards, like so many of their male brethren who’ve gone onto great things in the NHL.

Not so, says Rene.

“It’s so different between North America and Europe,” he says. “In North America, girls go to college and play the game. It doesn’t work that way in Europe.

“When a girl wants to play hockey in Europe, it’s usually because she had a brother or a father play and they bring her in.”

The interest just doesn’t exist with our European sisters.

Hayley, however, is encouraged by developments in women’s hockey, including talks of a professional league and the induction of Angela James and Cammi Granato.

“No one paid attention to us before,” she says. “Now we’re on the radar. We weren’t on the agenda at the first hockey summit and now we’re on the schedule for this one. We can make a difference if we keep pushing.”

She looks to leaders such as Melody Davidson, head coach of women’s Team Canada. And former teammate Cassie Campbell, who has become a media personality with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

“The people doing day-to-day work in the trenches, like Finland, they’re doing fantastic work,” Hayley says. “The next step is to get more buy in, to create more opportunities to play the game.

“But players also need to understand the amount of training needed to be successful.”

It will also be important, down the road, for she and her teammates to coach, manage and blaze trails off the ice for women’s hockey.

Would it not also help for the current players to spend time in Europe in the non-Olympic years — promoting the game, leading skills clinics and talking to young girls about the positive aspects of the game?

Our national-team players are the best in the world. If a young boy could a lesson or two about skating from Wayne Gretzky, wouldn’t that help spark a love for the game in that child?

What if that was a young girl in Sweden, Slovakia or Germany and had Hayley Wickenheiser showing her how to shoot a puck?

It would be great if we heard some real action items, realistic actions to achieve, come out of Thursday’s Summit sessions. The group, with Hayley as a speaker, will review the approach toward women’s hockey in all IIHF member associations and what visions they have for developing the game.

Fans of the women’s game will look forward to how we can apply our thoughts from Thursday’s sessions and how we can tangibly grow the game.

Once the talk is over, it’s time to get to work.

For real.

Great quotes from Day 1

A recap of quotes from the Hot Stove Sessions at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit in Toronto.

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Daniel Alfredsson:

I like the tradition of keeping the Olympics on a big surface and I was hoping the Europeans would have an advantage (at the Vancouver Olympics).

There are scrums during training camp in Europe but no fights where you drop the gloves. I was surprised here … they were happening even before the puck was dropped. But now I have no problem with fighting, except when they fight for no reason. It serves a purpose and it has happened for so long here that it is accepted and expected.

Yes, we could put an NHL team in Stockholm but you have domestic leagues that still need to survive. We need to be careful. Just because the NHL is the most powerful league in the world … what about the three teams already in Stockholm?

Glenn Healey:

I have a problem with the punishment in the international game. If you fight late in the game, you miss the rest of the game and you miss the next game. Guys are taking cheap shots because they know that. There needs to be a level of accountability.

There needs to be a team in Winnipeg, a team in Quebec City and another team here (in Toronto) before we start putting teams in Sweden.

Steve Yzerman:

A rink in every community is not a luxury, it’s a necessity … maybe not like a library but it should be a place to make for a healthy community.

Children are our future fan base, our future supporters.

Uwe Krupp:

In Germany, we watch the NHL, so we decided we needed arenas that hold 20,000 people. We’re a major industrial power of 90 million people but we have one sport and that’s soccer. Everything else is on the fringe.

The cost (of hockey) is an obstacle. It’s  fraction of the cost to buy sneakers and a pair of shorts and put (your kid) on a grassy field to play soccer. Like Steve (Yzerman) said, municipalities have a responsibility to supply people with a certain standard of living. In Canada, even though the facilities are old, the kids still go there and play hockey.

Hayley Wickenheiser:

My parents are both school teachers. I have heard them talk about the decline of physical education in schools. I’m on the board for Participaction and we need a resurgence. My son doesn’t like hockey but, as a Canadian kid, I think he should learn how to skate. Kids should learn about hockey for recreation and for the opportunity to learn and love the game. As hockey advocates, I think it an area we can push at the higher levels to get (grass-roots) action.

Brian Burke:

You can’t hear me? All right … mic. Besides, with all the cameras in the room, I can’t swear the way I did at the last (summit).

The volunteer is the linchpin of our system in North America and God bless them. We wouldn’t have a lot of the players we have today if it wasn’t for those volunteers. A professional coach is under a different set of pressures than the guy who coaches his kid because he loves him.

Don Meehan:

It’s our business to know who (the good players) are. We don’t get calls from 15-year-olds. We get calls from their parents. So, we’re in the business of managing expectations. If we had a dollar for every minute we spend managing expectations …

Growing the women’s game

There’s an evil cycle at play when it comes to women’s hockey.

It doesn’t get enough fan interest, so it doesn’t generate media attention, so it doesn’t attract big sponsors, so it doesn’t get enough fan interest, so it doesn’t … you get the picture.

Every four years, we get intensely passionate about women’s hockey … we cannot wait to see Hayley Wickenheiser hold that Canadian flag over her head, the sweat pouring off her forehead and the tears streaming down her face.

Hayley is the face of women’s hockey. We’ve followed her career, from bitter disappointment in Nagano to attempts at professional career in men’s hockey and to Olympic and world championship triumphs.

She’s championing the women’s side of the game this week at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

But let’s face it. Who doesn’t get bored out of her mind watching Team Canada lay a 14-0 beatdown on Kerplackastan every four years?

Here we go … just eliminate the round-robin and go straight to the Canada-United States final, right? I mean, Sweden and Finland have made valiant efforts in the past but this really comes down to a two-horse race.

And the sport’s Olympic status is at risk for that very reason. We’ve already seen women’s softball go the way of the do-do bird at Summer Olympics, because softball  – presumably – isn’t a ‘global game.’ Really, it’s more likely because we all got tired of watching the U.S. and Australia treat the rest of the world like the red-headed stepchild.

Bruce Fiskie, a blogger at AOL Sports’ Fanhouse, gives us a terrific breakdown of the numbers involved in women’s hockey.

“In Canada,” he writes, “there were over 77,000 players registered to play girls’/women’s hockey. Over 60,000 play it in the United States. Meanwhile, Olympic entrants Slovakia and China combined to have a bit more than 400 players total. It’s impossible to expect these countries to ever compete at a high level in this sport with those kinds of numbers.

“While Sweden and Finland have shown flashes of competitiveness, neither has topped 3,000 registered players in their home countries. They’re still fighting quite the uphill battle and, even if they can compete with Canada and the U.S. more often, it might not be enough to convince the IOC.”

OK, here’s what I started wondering last winter as we watched the quadrennial demolition of the warmup teams.

If there are more than 77,000 Canadian women and girls registered to play hockey, that’s a lot of players who don’t make Team Canada, or even its development squads.

A lot.

Lot.

Don’t any of them have dual citizenship? Surely they could jump across the puddle and go help Finland or Germany or … whomever.

We see it all the time on the men’s side. Born and raised in Edmonton, Hnat Domenichelli played for Italy … list a few more here.

There’s no reason our women can’t do the same, earning a very rare opportunity to play at the Olympics.

After all, we are the very best in the world at women’s hockey – teaching the game, learning it and playing it. The numbers above prove we’re a little top heavy on players, in comparison to the other countries.

And we only send the very best of the very best to elite international competitions.

So let’s lend a hand, eh?

#WHS2010

If you’re on the Twitter, don’t forget to add #WHS2010 to your posts about the World Hockey Summit.

It’s an easy stream — in addition to your @s in our direction, both on our personal feeds and our @WldHockeySummit — to check, so we, your faithful bloggers, can chat it up with you, answer your questions and be advised on better ways to keep you informed.

New to Twitter?

It’s called a ‘hashtag.’

A hashtag adds additional meta data to a Tweet, letting us know how popular the World Hockey Summit is with you.

We wanted to go with #WHS, since it’s short, but it seems that hashtag is already ‘owned’ by a high school in the States.

Join us in the discussion, won’t you?

Twitter Handles to Know

World Hockey Summit@WldHockeySummit

Richard Loat@mozy19

Darrin Reynolds@dink9966

Justin Kendrick@hockeycardshow

Angela MacIsaac@that_angela

WHS blogger profile

I danced in my kitchen.

When Tonia Hammer DMed me on Twitter to let me know I was one of the four bloggers selected to cover the World Hockey Summit, I danced in my kitchen.

Thank you, Molson Coors Canada!

My dog thought I was nuts.

He thinks that most days anyway.

By the end of the morning, I had my vacation time booked from Shaw and a sitter all lined up for my boy, Shep.

n276855599228_1407I grew up on the game, whether it was being dragged to the rink to watch one of my three brothers play, watching the World Juniors with Dad every Christmas, dating a hockey player (there’ve been a few), studying the game’s history or writing about it for my lengthy sports journalism career.

I never once tired of the game, even during events like the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament, during which I could watch more than 25 games over the course of five days.

And now that I’m no longer in the business — I was laid off by the Calgary Sun in 2006 — I watch, I study and I learn. I’m as giddy as a 10-year-old every time I score seats to a Flames game at the Saddledome and I never feel more alive than when I hear the slash of skate blades across the ice.

Four Hockey Questions

Did/do you play hockey?

My hometown is Antigonish and when I was growing up, girls weren’t allowed to play hockey. They were allowed to figure skate, so I did. And they were allowed to date hockey players, so I did … much to my father’s chagrin.

Many years later, a friend, Brian Silverson, built a private ice rink in Kamloops where I was toiling as a sports writer, covering the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. He offered me hockey lessons. I couldn’t resist. I was already a strong skater, thanks to my figure skating, but I was hopeless with a stick in my hand.

And have you ever tried to stop skating backward when you don’t have toe picks? Yeah … face? Meet ice.

I played women’s league in Kamloops, learning from teammates who had won the Western AA championship and were much more skilled, and then connected with a team in Calgary when I moved here.

Alack, concussions started to catch up to me. My last game was on January 21, 2007, and I miss it every winter.

Most of all, I miss the smell of the ice.

Have you ever smelled the ice? Try it.

What is your earliest hockey memory?

My earliest hockey memories have little to do with the game … other than being in the rink. I would run around the building, under the bleachers and around the ice-cleaner room (we had no Zamboni, it was a tractor with some water dispensing thing on it), with the other non-playing kids until, inevitably, I would get yelled at by mother for tomfoolery.

We would sit there, watching Shane, Kevin or Jason play, and Mom would keep quiet. So would Dad, until whichever playing brother let a hand drop off his stick.

TWO HANDS!

When I was playing, even though he had long since passed to the next life, I could still hear him bellowing ‘two hands’ — and I longed to tell him that’s not how it’s done anymore when you’re skating without the puck.

Are there any sessions to which you are particularly looking forward?

Major junior hockey is a pet topic of mine, after spending so many years on the beat in Kamloops. So I’m really looking forward to the session on Junior Development in the World on Tuesday afternoon.

Led by Cole Butterworth, the CHL’s marketing director, our moderators, speakers and panels will lead us on assessing the World Juniors, the Olympics and the NHL Draft. Apparently, European development is suffering and it may be impacted by migration to the Canadian major junior ranks or leaving for the NHL and AHL before they’re ready.

With most of my knowledge base in the WHL, we’ve seen our share of impact players — have you heard of a guy named Marian Hossa or Zdeno Chara — and we’ve seen our share of busts and never-wases.

But are two Euro players per team going to make a difference? Are those kids better off here, learning how the NHL works in a very similar atmosphere like Major Junior? Should they be learning North American culture, the language and ‘our game’?

Or would they be better off staying at home, where they might get more ice time if they aren’t ‘the guy’ or where they’re more comfortable in a place they know, with their friends and family?

Alexander Ovechkin did all right, staying at home and playing for Moscow Dynamo, didn’t he?

If there’s anyone you want to meet next week, who is it and why?

No hesitation to my response … Steve Yzerman. And anyone who knows me could have answered that for me. From the first picture I saw of Stevie Y (I still have it) to the day this week that I hopefully meet him, I have loved this man from afar.

At one time, I owned 23 different Yzerman bobbleheads and five different Macfarlane figurines. Then one day I woke up and realized my apartment looked like a 13-year-old boy’s bedroom. And I was a 30-something woman.

I hawked it all on eBay, mostly at a loss, but I’ve kept one bobblehead, which I believe is the first one ever issued, and more than 500 collector’s cards, from his rookie to a jersey card I scored in the early 2000s.

The consummate NHL leader of the modern era, Yzerman owned the Detroit Red Wings, more than Mike Ilitch ever could. He played with his heart and his head and we watched him grow from that bright-eyed kid pulling his Red Wings jersey over his head for the first time in 1983 to a three-time Stanley Cup champion and an NHL general manager.

And yeah, I know the Westsyde house where he lived for a year in Kamloops.

WHS blogger profile

Darrin Reynolds … colour chemist at a plastic manufacturer by day, hockey-card analyst by night.

Darrin — ‘Dink’ to his friends and viewers — loves to talk hockey.

He can get together with his buddies and talk for hours … the draft, trades, games, you name it.

“It’s something I could do all day and night,” he says. “It excites me like a cool breeze while wearing track pants.”

Mmm … ahh … oh.

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Justin, left, and Darrin

So you know the 37-year-old father of two is in for a highlight at the World Hockey Summit, sponsored by Molson Coors Canada, next week in Toronto.

Dink is one of four bloggers/Tweeters selected by Molson to cover the World Hockey Summit. He’s joined by his Hockey Card Show co-host, Justin Kendrick, Vancouverite Richard Loat and me, a Calgarian.

“It’s so wicked,” he says. “What an amazing opportunity to be involved with not only some of hockey’s biggest issues and biggest names, but also to represent Molson. What a treat.”

Four Hockey Questions

Did/do you play hockey?
Yes I did when I was younger.  I have had the skates hung up for many years now other than the odd outdoor game each winter.

I played from age nine unitl I was 21. Started as a your typical house leaguer after learning to skate on the ponds behind my house in Corbyville (just outside of Belleville, Ont). I moved from a forward to tending the pipes after my first year in Atom.  Made my way on to the select team and eventually went on to play AA right through until Midget, then Juvie when the dream was over.  Played all my years out of Belleville except for my overage year in Juvie where I played in Lakefield while attending College in Peterborough.

I like to think I was super fuckin’ amazing, but what kid doesn’t? I was all right, I guess … obviously not good enough to make the show … but the game when I was young was my passion and still is to this day. I received a scouting letter to attend a Junior A (Tier 2) camp in Oshawa for the old Legionaires (now Whitby Fury), who played in the now-defunct Metro League. I thought it was a joke at first … one of my buds pulling a fast one as there was no letterhead on the actual invite,  plus I was 18 at the time. Then a second one came and I knew it was the real deal. I did not go as I went off to college instead and figured I would play in the OCAA. Well, my first year the college kept the two goalies from the past years’ team and that was that. Other things then got in the way as the thought of any thing serious in hockey had faded long before. When I say other things, I mean the usual college stuff like studying and planning my career … LOL!

What is your earliest hockey memory?
My earliest hockey memories are sitting in the kitchen or laying on the counter and watching a small TV we had while my parents would be downstairs either entertaining or watching some other show that was NOT Hockey Night in Canada. FOR SHAME! LOL.  This was at age six (the start of the 79-80 season). Of course due to the location, all we had were Leafs games. They did play the odd Habs game, or you could watch them on the French channel. I would study the players, started collecting cards that my dad would buy for me and studied them. It was a religion every Saturday night for me (very cliche I know for so many Canadians … but oh so true). So, obviously I was a Leafs fan, who, like many kids my age, found it tough to watch them as they were always losing. My grandfather would blame Harold Ballard and so would I. I had fallen hard for Wayne Gretzky as well, also like many my age as he had just entered the league and was taking it by storm.  Still my favourite player to this day.

Another memory close to my heart and a good segue to my favourite team now is attending the Belleville Bulls games their first few seasons (after they joined the OHL for the 81-82 season). My dad would take me even though he is not a huge hockey fan, but, like buying cards and hockey stickers, he knew I loved it. This is where I got to see Steve Yzerman play. I thought he was pretty good and, truth be told, his name also stuck out to me as a kid.  So, as you can guess I started following the Red Wings the best I could after he joined them. Obviously pre-internet days or satellite TV, so I would just wait for the Wings to play the Leafs to actually get to see Stevie play.  He was a Leaf killer.

On a side note … obviously still a diehard Wings fan and yes a closet Leafs fan as long as they are not playing Detroit.  My dream since they moved Toronto to the East is that they would play in the final. It was looking possible in ’02 but no dice.  Ahh well, the Wings got ‘er done that year regardless!

Are there any sessions to which you are particularly looking forward?
I am looking forward to the session involving the grass roots — player skill development issues and the growing participation topics. I have many friends with kids in hockey and my six-year-old is starting to show a real interest. I have my own opinions about some of these that I am sure I will share throughout the week. Friends all have voiced their opinions to me knowing that I will be there to hear what the main brass have to say.

If there’s anyone you want to meet next week, who is it and why?
Stevie Y would be the no-brainer answer … but luckily Justin and I got to meet him last November at the press conference for the Molson Canadian Hockey House.  That was a bucket list moment.  Meeting (or I guess you could say seeing Steve again will be awesome) but I would really like to meet Brendan Shanahan.  I always loved the way he played the game and, when he came to the Wings, that was incredible.  It really put them over the hump for those back-to-back Cups in ’97 & ’98.

I also think it would be a treat to meet Mark Johnson.  He has had a very storied career.

WHS blogger profile

We have to hope Molson Coors Canada doesn’t mind an F-bomb or two over the course of the World Hockey Summit next week in Toronto.

Potential Tweet: Holy fuck, I just talked to Brendan Shanahan for 15 minutes about the R&D camp learnings.

We’re unfiltered and unfettered, Molson told us … after all, anyone who has watched a hockey broadcast and heard a coach yelling at a ref knows the culture is peppered with salty words.

Now watch this: Hey, Justin Kendrick, what was your first thought when you were invited to blog the World Hockey Summit?

“Fuck, yes,” he says.

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Justin, left, and Darrin

Justin, along with his Hockey Card Show teammate Darrin Reynolds, will join Richard Loat and I as fully accredited delegates at the Summit, attending sessions and reporting back to you from our websites, Twitter streams, the WHS Facebook page and the WHS Twitter stream.

“The Summit looks like a great idea for hockey … for all the ‘gods’ to get together and hug it out,” Justin says.

Justin and Darrin host on their website a video show, during which they sit on a leather loveseat and open old and new packs of hockey cards. They’re funny, they’re irreverent and they drink … are those bottles of Miller Genuine Draft on the table? Better be!

“We have no idea what players are going to be pulled from the pack but we talk about the players and the teams,” Justin explains. “The unknowing helps for the spontaneity and realness.

“It’s a blast to shoot as we are usually sipping on a beer or rye. We have been doing it for two seasons now and will be starting up again in October.”

The show has opened up opportunities other than World Hockey Summit. Justin and Darrin have worked with Upper Deck, McDonald’s and Molson on other promotional ventures.

Follow Justin on Twitter.

Four Hockey Questions

Did/do you play hockey?

During the school year (basically the NHL season), my friends and I would meet up at our local tennis courts and play. This went on for all of high school regardless of rain or snow. There were a few of us that were right around the corner from the courts so we would bring shovels and spend the time needed to clear the courts so that we could play for a few hours. We would play on Saturday afternoons and then in the evening we would all go to someone’s house and watch the games. That is the highest level I ever played. I actually suck pretty hard at skating so now when I get a chance to play on ice I’m all over it as I am still trying to get a hang of it.

As for the ball hockey/road hockey skill, I like to think I was half-ass decent. I used to have a hard shot and I could hustle. I hung out in front of the goalie and just annoyed him, I would talk to him about every day stuff to distract him until I was tapping in a rebound. It was fun times! When I wasn’t sitting in front of the net, I was in net. The guys hated playing against me, not because I was good but because I would always come out and pokecheck them. I would slide around like Hasek and constantly be talking and yelling. Hmm … saying all this, it sounds like I was a bit of dick. Oh well!

What is your earliest hockey memory?

I got into hockey rather late in life compared to most Canadian kids. It was right around 1992-93 (so I was 12ish) that I started to watch. The Leafs were all over the news and I remember getting a ride to school and hearing how they played the night before. There was excitement and it was contagious. Very randomly, though, one of my first NHL moments that I remember is Guy Lafleur. I just have this image of him in a Nordiques jersey. That is how my mind works sometimes, just snapshots but I have that one. Other snapshots in my mind would include Paul Romanuk’s ‘it is over’ call from the World Juniors, playing countless hours of NHL94 on my SNES and Gilmour’s wraparound goal.

Are there any sessions to which you are particularly looking forward?

I am looking most forward to the Junior Development in the Hockey World session as I get super jacked for the World Juniors each year when Christmas rolls around.

Back in November I was able to meet Steve Yzerman at The Hockey Hall of Fame. That’s going to be hard to beat so I will take a sideways approach to this and say I’m looking forward to shaking Paul Romanuk’s hand and telling him that his call in 1994 is one of the reasons I love hockey today.

WHS blogger profile

Richard Loat didn’t grow up with hockey.

He grew up in the United Arab Emirates where hockey is a world away.

He moved to Canada in 1999 and the rest, as they say, is history. This spring and summer, the Vancouver boy created and co-ordinated Five Hole for Food, a charitable effort in which he drove across the country playing hockey and asking participants and spectators to donate food or money to their local food banks.

“I can’t wait to do it again next year!”

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Thanks to his philanthropy and passion for it, we won’t hold his passion for the Vancouver Canucks against him.

Richard, a.k.a. mozy19, writes for the Canucks Hockey Blog and feels honoured to be selected as a World Hockey Summit ambassador of Molson Coors Canada and the hockey blogging community.

“I think I’m a mixture of excited to be part of such an event and a little bit nervous to get to rub shoulders with the who’s who in hockey,” he says.

Four Hockey Questions

Did/do you play hockey?

I’ve never been any good at ice hockey, but I’m a road hockey and ball hockey all star. I wouldn’t say I’m the Wayne Gretzky of off-ice hockey but I’d liken myself to Alex Burrows at times.

What is your earliest hockey memory?
I grew up in the UAE so I hadn’t heard of hockey until I moved to Canada in 1999. I fell in love with the game after watching the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics Gold Medal game and the rest is history!

Are there any sessions to which you are particularly looking forward?
Being a die hard fan of the Canucks is one thing but there aren’t a lot of people out there that are die hard fans of hockey. I’m excited to get to explore the game on an international level and from a perspective that is about the sport and no individual team. The whole summit has me pretty stoked.

If there’s anyone you want to meet next week, who is it and why?
The lineup of names at the Summit is long, do you really want me to list who I want to meet? If I have to pick one person to meet, it has to be Brian Burke. I’ve loved him since his Vancouver days and he’s earned the level of respect he has in the NHL for a reason. He’s a classy man and I’d love to meet him if only in the hope that I’ll walk away with a personalized Brian Burke quote.

Back to work

How do you spot the journalists in the room?

We don’t applaud.

That was my funny ha-ha for the morning at the #smbyyc, a gathering for social-networking enthusiasts to share our knowledge.

‘Journalist’ is a tag I’ll own until I die, no matter the love-hate relationship the industry and I have for each other.

It kicked me out in 2006 and I love to criticize it.Out of the business for four years, I’m dusting off my figurative fedora and diving back into the game.

For one week only.

OK … three and a half days.

I’m one of four bloggers hired by Molson Coors Canada to blog, Tweet and share the World Hockey Summit next week in Toronto.

This is a cherry assignment. It takes No. 1 spot over the 1998 NHL All-Star Game in Vancouver and the 2006 World Figure Skating Championships in Calgary. At this point, the 1996 Ford World Curling Championships in Kamloops don’t even register a beat.

And sorry about your luck, Gander Senior Flyers.

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The World Hockey Summit is a meeting of the great minds of hockey — from team executives to players and league big wigs — and they’ll be laying a path for global growth of the game, skill development and more.

Fans are welcome to participate. In fact, their opinions are welcome and encouraged.

And that’s where we come in. Torontonians Darrin Reynolds and Justin Kendrick, Richard Loat of Vancouver and I are charged with passing what we learn at Summit onto the fans who can’t be there.

The question many of you may ask is why?

Why would Molson use amateurs — yes, I pleaded with the journalism gods for a return to amateur status — instead of professional public relations personnel to convey the message?

The answer is quite simple, says Tonia Hammer, social media pro on Molson’s Community Relations team.

“We wanted to allow virtual access to the hockey summit to the legion of hockey fans who are passionate about Molson Canadian and also to represent the voice of the hockey fan rather than prescribe our own voice/opinion,” she says.

Molson has embraced the realm of social networking, creating a community among their fans and beer drinkers. They have a Molson Insider program on their website, a Facebook page, online-based contests and promotions, and Twitter accounts for many employees in the Community Relations division.

These platforms, Tonia says, allow Molson to have conversations with people who are passionate about their brand.

“That’s how we distinguish it from a marketing channel approach,” she says. “Our communications team, along with CRM and marketing teams understand the power behind social media and use the tools online to listen, understand and engage in the discussions that relate to us.

“Whether Facebook, Twitter, blogs and so on, we try to provide dialogue that will educate and entertain beer drinkers along with discussing topics that are relevant to the brand. For example: hockey and Molson Canadian!”

Indeed, Molson Canadian beer and hockey go hand in hand. Many of us grew up with the delightful kissssshh of a beer bottle opening just our dads eased into the La-Z-Boy for Saturday night’s game.

And we’re familiar with it ourselves — men and women alike — as we’ve taken up the torch of our forefathers and continued the weekend tradition.

Many of us relate that passion to each other by Tweeting our thoughts on the game we’re watching, Twitpicking from the stadium or starting to blogs to ramble on about team personnel, referee calls, trades and rumours and more.

By being committed to the social space for more than five years, Molson has developed a strong relationship with some of the Canada’s preeminent bloggers and Tweeters, Tonia says.

“In social media, it’s easy to recognize people’s passions,” she says. “As Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit approached a number of key hockey personalities made their way to the top of the list.”

The four individuals, she says, each have a strong following in their own communities and they bring passion and personality to hockey’s social-networking sphere.

Yeah, I’m blushing a little bit right now.

Each one of us — me, Richard, Justin and Darrin — are honoured to have been chosen to represent you at the World Hockey Summit. We encourage you to engage with us on our blogs, the Facebook page, the Summit Twitter stream and our own Twitter feeds.

We look forward to not only informing and entertaining you but also to maybe — just maybe — get to ask one of your questions in the mighty press scrum at the end of each session.

Coming up next: Profiles of your World Hockey Summit bloggers.

Heading to the Hockey Summit

This could be one of the most exciting things to happen to me.

The story starts a couple of months ago, when Tonia Hammer — Community Relations for Molson Coors Canada — was here from Toronto for a Tweetup.

We’ve connected over Twitter. We both love beer and hockey … the two very intrinsic traits that make us Canadian, I suppose.

She pulled me aside and said, ‘Look, would you ever come to Toronto for a visit?’

I mentioned I was thinking about heading that way for my niece’s lacrosse tournament (which is happening right now!) but wasn’t sure if it was in the summer budget.

What if you came to Toronto to blog the World Hockey Summit for us?

Um … what?

Yes, that was the offer to stand on the table.

My head started spinning.

The World Hockey Summit is a gathering of the who’s who in hockey to discuss the game’s global growth. The big guns of the NHL will be there, famous faces from women’s hockey, coaches, general managers, players …

I got into work the next day and booked off Aug. 23-27 from my writing job at Shaw.

But time went on. I wasn’t hearing anything from Tonia. I gave up hope. I tend to do that easily.

I mean, why in hell should I get invited to blog and Tweet for Molson? Sure, I used to be a sportswriter. Sure, I Tweet about hockey … sure, I Tweet a lot. A lot.

What does that make me in the grand scheme of things? A big ole nobody still. It isn’t even like I have a hockey-related blog (should I? I’ve wondered that before).

Then today, I open up my Hootsuite and discover a direct message from Tonia … Need your email. Hope you still kept Aug. 23-27 open.

My jaw dropped. My stomach jumped. There went that damn spinning in my head again. Body parts were being pulled in every direction … figuratively, not literally.

So here I am.

Invited to the Molson World Hockey Summit as a Tweeter/blogger. All expenses paid.

Steve Yzerman will be there. Gary Bettman, Hayley Wickenheiser, Brian Burke, Dan Alfredsson …

Steve Yzerman.

In case you didn’t know, big fan.

Steve Yzerman.

First thing, I texted my brothers. They’re all together in Toronto for the lacrosse tournament. I wish I was there, but they understand I had to wait to see if this opportunity would come to fruition.

This might be the biggest event of my career — even though it isn’t really work-related — since I attended the 1998 NHL all-star game in Vancouver.

Steve Yzerman was supposed to be there. But he was injured.

I did something this morning I haven’t done in a very long time.

I danced in my kitchen.

And yes, I’m now loyal to Molson.

Even if it means no more Keith’s.