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