2021 bhm scott smith interview e

Six Questions with Scott Smith

The president and COO of Hockey Canada talks about the organization’s role in the Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee, and the importance of ensuring the game is available to all who want to play

Jason La Rose
February 27, 2021

Last summer, as the National Hockey League playoffs got underway in Edmonton and Toronto, the world changed.

The social change that dominated the news in the United States made its way into the hockey world, and the National Hockey League took notice, and took action.

On Sept. 3, the NHL “announced a series of significant initiatives focused on the fight against racism and the mandate to make our sport and our League more welcoming and inclusive.”

As part of that announcement, the league unveiled a trio of committees to look at inclusion in the game – the Player Inclusion Committee, Fan Inclusion Committee and Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee. All three were tasked with developing action-oriented solutions to positively impact the access, opportunity and experiences that underrepresented groups have in the game – and in the business – of hockey.

Six months later, HockeyCanada.ca caught up with Scott Smith, the president and chief operating officer of Hockey Canada, to discuss the organization’s role in the Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee, and what is being done to make the game more welcoming to everyone who wants to play.

HC: How did the Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee come together?

SS: I was originally contacted by [NHL group vice-president of youth hockey and industry growth] Rob Knesaurek, who I coached at the University of New Brunswick in the early 1990s. He let me know that the NHL was forming a number of inclusion committees. Kim Davis, the executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs with the National Hockey League, reached out and formalized an invitation, and I was very much honoured to be asked to co-chair the group. It created an opportunity for Hockey Canada to be part of the environment of listening and learning, and taking an opportunity to act on a number of equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, whether they came from the YHIC or from the work of the Hockey Canada equity, diversity and inclusion task team.

HC: Who is included in the YHIC, and why was it important to have varied stakeholders?

SS: There are 16 individuals from across North America who are part of the committee. Myself and Pat Kelleher, the executive director of USA Hockey, are co-chairs, and we have representation from across the hockey spectrum. It has been a real valuable experience to hear from individuals who have had great success in local programs that serve underrepresented groups in the game. There has been great passion and great commitment that have led to the growth of these programs at a local level. Some are tied to National Hockey League teams, and some are just programs that are born out of grassroots initiatives and really have created some great opportunities for youth, both in Canada and in the U.S. From a Hockey Canada perspective, the YHIC also includes Denise Pattyn, our director of human resources and lead on equity, diversity and inclusion, who has made significant contributions to the group.

HC: Why was it important for Hockey Canada to be part of the YHIC?

SS: In a report from our equity, diversity and inclusion task team in November 2020, one of the clear takeaways was that inclusion is not involving more people in the current environment – it's striving to create a better environment that welcomes more people. When the opportunity presented itself to be part of the Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee, it was clear this was just another chance to listen and learn, and to share experiences. This is an opportunity for Hockey Canada to be part of a collective effort and see where we might be able to contribute and build on the positive environment that exists within hockey. Our goal is to make the game even better, involve more participants and avoid any barriers to participation that may exist at any level.

HC: Why is it important to ensure the game is inclusive from the lowest levels?

SS: Hockey Canada's ultimate goal is to create an opportunity for all Canadians to have some connection to the game. To learn that there are experiences that are less than positive that prevent individuals and families from being associated with hockey can be disappointing, to say the least. We want to make sure we're doing everything we can as a world-leading sport organization in providing an opportunity to be inclusive and make sure kids can see themselves in the game.

HC: What is the YHIC doing to accomplish the above?

SS: There are opportunities where we may be able to benefit from collective efforts, with respect to training and education across the game. The work by each of the committee members has reinforced our strong understanding that there are a number of best practices that could be shared for learning, and potentially adaptation, in communities across the country. And we recognize there is an opportunity for the entire hockey system to partner on a mass-media campaign that could advance inclusion throughout all levels of play. There’s still much work to be done, but these themes and key areas of emphasis are things Hockey Canada wants to be a part of going forward.

HC: What are the challenges to making inclusion more of a reality?

SS: I think the greatest challenge that exists is the size, scope and structure of hockey in Canada. We’re very fortunate that we have dedicated volunteers that are well-organized and well-structured up and down the hockey system who provide opportunities in the game from coast to coast to coast. The challenge is that one incident of this nature is one too many. So, our constant effort will be to continue to strive to provide an even better and even more inclusive environment, and we believe that being members of the YHIC, as well as speaking with subject-matter experts in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion will only bring more opportunities to welcome new families going forward.

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
[email protected]


Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
[email protected]


Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]


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