2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Development Camp - Finland

Friday saw the close of the 2019 IIHF Hockey Development Camp, the 16th edition of the camp designed to foster tomorrow’s leaders in sport and development.

The 2019 HDC marks the 20th year the IIHF has held a summer hockey camp, in addition to the High Performance Camp which will take place next summer.

“I would say to everyone that came to this camp: this is not the end, this is the beginning,” said IIHF HDC Camp Director Aku Nieminen. “In a way, they are expected to take the camp back home with them, through the lessons they’ve learned, the training they went through, and the new friendships they have made.”

Reflecting on their camp experience, players spoke a lot about the connections they formed with their teammates, who came from around the world. Australian defenceman Sacha Rapchuk hoped he would stay in touch with all of his campers that together formed Team Red, mentioning fellow blueliner Said Ayala from Mexico City as one of his best friends from the team.

“Hopefully we play against each other at a World Championship in the future,” said Rapchuk, who had a message for his new friend.

“Keep your head up pal,” said Rapchuck with a grin.

Player were impressed with the facilities and services that were offered by the camp, which takes place at the Sport Institute of Vierumaki, a top-level sports facility that routinely hosts Olympic athletes for training. The Finnish Ice Hockey Association also holds training sessions for the various national teams here. Other ice hockey federations such as Canada have in the past also used Vierumaki for training and exhibition games prior to competing in a World Championship in Europe.

 

The camp has had a few famous participants in the past. NHL All-Stars Anze Kopitar from Slovenia and Seth Jones from USA attended the camp, as well 2014 World Junior Championship gold medalist and local Finn Rasmus Ristolainen.

But player development is just one of the pillars of the HDC. The primary focus is on sport development, and the instrucots managing the campers are also there to learn from each other, whether it be coaching, team maangement, or equipment management.

The camp also runs concurrent MNA Leadership and Learn to Play programs. Both programs drew praise from the participants, who were nominated by their respective MNA to come to the camp and learn new skills and share knowledge.

The Learn to Play program offered a unique spin for the attendees, who were put in charge of managing a team of local children from Finland. Aside from overcoming the language barrier, the LTP instructors were put to work managing their teams and coming up with drills and exercises to keep the kids engaged and interested in hockey. By working with the kids, receiving presentations on recruitment, and being asked to come up with their own lesson plans for beginner ice hockey players, the LTP participants learned a lot about how to grow their player numbers back home.

“It was pretty fun this week, we had a lot of work and definitely enjoyed the experience.” said Katsuyoshi Shinoda. “It was a challenge working with the kids without being able to communicate directly, but we all speak hockey.”

“It’s the highlight of the year to see more than 25 countries in the Learn to Play, people come here and they’re enthusiastic about growing the game worldwide and giving opportunities for kids to be draw to the sport through recruitment.” said USA Hockey’s Kevin McLaughlin, a member of the IIHF’s Youth & Junior Development Committee since 2003 and an IIHF Learn to Play Program instructor since 2000."

 

The MNA Leadership Program was run by IIHF Youth & Junior Development Committee member Johan Bollue of the Royal Belgian Ice Hockey Federation, along with Stephen Norris, who was the Director of Sport Physiology & Strategic Planning at the Canadian Sport Centre Calgary for three Winter Olympics from 2002-2010. Norris, who just finished his seventh camp, is a self-described “performance conversationalist” and a recognized authority on long-term athlete development and talent nurturing systems.

“The camps are all unique because of the people,” said Norris. “With every passing year there is growing momentum to the camp. People come who have been told to come by their colleagues who came here previously. It’s a snowball that’s rolling and rolling and gathering steam and I think really having a sizeable impact. We all learn something from what we hear at this camp and I think that’s a marvelous thing.”

Topics for the MNA Leadership Development Program included organizational assessments, long-term development planning and the creation of domestic development plans. Budgeting, Anti-doping, marketing, and communications & PR were also covered.

Forging networking groups and creating collaboration between MNAs is a major purpose for the camp’s existence. Norris pointed out that often these organizations come in and are constrained by preconceived notions or biases, and that it is important to show them that in fact all of the challenges they face are similar to each other’s and that they can and should be there to help each other.

“And it should not just come from the IIHF,” said Norris. “The IIHF takes a leadership role to help all the MNAs to realize that they’re not alone, two are better then one when two act as one.”

From there, with the mutual interest being to grow the game, Norris and the MNA participants looks at the various regional issues that each MNA has in developing the sport, and attempt to come up with joint solutions to the problems. With finance often being an issue for developing MNAs, Norris turns the focus in investing into people first. Finding knowledgeable people that can develop good programs is a huge benefit to accelerating development.

“You can put that into practice anywhere, you don’t always need a shiny new arena to do it,” said Norris “We presented solutions to everyone and made them think, so we gave them tasks to perform throughout the week. Like awareness of hockey they had to produce a video on that, they had to work on a recruitment strategy and eventually prepare a submission to the IIHF for a seed grant.”

 

Ultimately, it’s about using hockey to work together, and the message has resonated with the 2019 HDC participants.

“All the presentations were good,” said Thamer Al-Mohannadi from the Qatar Ice Hockey Federation. Al-Mohannadi had previously attended the 2017 camp as a team manager, and was now returning to learn more about MNA Leadership.

“Learning about administration from the other side, first as a team manager and now from the leadership side, has been very helpful.”

“I’m very impressed with the camp and coming back very motivated,” said Lithuania’s Dalia Katuliene. “All this information about project philosophy, organizational culture and values, and marketing are very useful.”

Katuliene mentioned in particular Stephen Norris’ promotion of the Japanese “kaizen” principle, an approach towards life that is centered around constant effort at self-improvement. This philosophy is adaptable to business and has many applications to both work and life.

“You constantly need to move your program forward otherwise others will set new standards,” he said. “This is what sport is all about.”

“It’s about always improving yourself, and it is a great way to approach what we do,” said Katuliene.

Other members of the MNA Leadership program praised the inclusivity of the camp and the possibilities for networking and knowledge-sharing. Most agree that it is a perfect venue for the exchange of ideas between developed nations and countries with nascent ice hockey programs. With the 2019 HDC MNA Leadership group’s represented by not just established programs like Czech Republic, Russia, and Slovakia, but also Argentina, Israel, and Malaysia among others, the opportunities to learn are there.

“Getting to know new people, exchanging knowledge about ice hockey, and getting new information and mentoring from professionals,” said Nermin Alic from Bosnia & Herzegovina. “Especially for smaller countries that aren’t so experienced with hockey, these kind of knowledge coming from the bigger countries is really useful.”

As for the campers and their instructors, who have also come from various MNAS to serve at the camp as coaches, team managers, equipment managers, the memories and friendships that were made at the Hockey Development Camp will resonate for a long time. The campers can also take pride in serving as the testers for the upcoming 3-on-3 cross-ice competition, which will be a men’s and women’s event during the upcoming 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne.

“I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” said Dundee, Scotland’s Ben Brown. “I feel like I’m faster, and with the meals we’re having I feel so much lighter and faster. It’s been a good experience, I’ve made a lot of friends and will probably remember this experience for the rest of my life.”

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