After hours of presentations and countless discussions, Bob McCaig summed up the 2012 National Hockey Coaches Symposium in the simplest and most sincere terms.
"Wow. That's the only word I can use to describe how I feel being here this week," McCaig said as he sat in the lobby of the Renaissance Downtown Washington, D.C. Hotel watching coaches file past on their way from one presentation to another breakout session.
"I'm so happy that I'm here to see it."
As the coach in chief in the Southeastern District for more than 20 years, McCaig has had as much to do with the growth of hockey in the south as anyone. So for him to see more than 520 coaches from 41 states here in his home District is a crowning achievement in a lifetime of dedication to the game.
"We've gone from one coaching clinic in the District when I started in 1987 to more than 100 today," said McCaig, who moved to Acworth, Ga., from Sarnia, Ontario. "Today we have coaches attending clinics from Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee. We've not only grown the number of coaches but the number of talented coaches is really something to see."
The National Hockey Coaches Symposium is held every two years for coaches looking to attain their Level 5 coaching card, the highest level of USA Hockey certification. This is the first time since the program's inception in 1984 that the symposium has been held in a non-traditional hockey market, something that organizers are proud to point out.
"We've worked hard for two years to bring this event here (to Washington, D.C.), said Ty Newberry, who succeeded McCaig as the District coach in chief in 2009.
"This is the first time it's been in a non traditional hockey area. We believe that the growth of hockey in the District warrants it. We've been fortunate to have players drafted from the area. A lot of that is attributed to coaches."
The great things being done throughout the South is a microcosm for what's happening elsewhere in the USA Hockey ranks, as was evident from the impressive list of American speakers who presented at this year's event, including NHL head coaches Dan Bylsma and Joe Sacco, who was part of Sunday's program.
"The thing I'm most impressed by is that we can put together such an impressive lineup of speakers, who are all American," Newberry said. "I read somewhere that in 1969 we put more Americans on the moon than we had playing in the NHL. Today, not only are we putting more players in the NHL but we have more coaches working at the top levels of the game. It's really great to see."
One of the offshoots of hosting a symposium like this is that more local coaches can attend and gain knowledge and experience that they can pass on to others in their association and Affiliates.
"We have 106 coaches from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., who registered for this symposium," said John Coleman, president of Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association.
"This is a great experience for them to learn from professional coaches and go back to their programs and talk about what is happening. There's a real ripple effect through the Affiliate and the District. That's what we want."
Coleman hopes that area coaches will take what they have learned about the American Development Model and bring it back to their clubs to run more cross-ice practices and games, which will help get the best use out of the limited amount of ice in the area.
"One of our biggest challenges with growth is that we limit the number of athletes we can welcome into our game because of the cost and the availability of ice in the area. We struggle to find enough ice to accommodate our growth initiatives," Coleman said.
"I'm hoping that part of the coaching education program helps coaches learn about more efficient and effective means of ice utilization that some speakers have addressed this week."
Despite the challenges Coleman is proud of the strides the District and it's Affiliates have made over the years.
"When you see kids you knew as a player who are now coaching you know you're doing the right thing because we are creating a culture where they want to get involved and give back," he said.
And as the program wound down on Sunday afternoon and the coaches hustled to catch flights back home and the small army of volunteers looked to catch their breath before heading back to their full-time jobs on Monday, McCaig could only smile with pride that so many people came to his home District to talk hockey and continue to move the game forward.
"You're never done learning," McCaig said. "I've been involved in hockey most of my life and I've picked up a few things by listening to the speakers this week."