George McPhee approached the stage and paused before addressing the packed ballroom in a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel.
"This is a pretty impressive group of more than 500 coaches who are here this week to learn and improve and make things better," said the general manager of the Washington Capitals who was one of the keynote speakers during the opening session at the 2012 National Hockey Coaches Symposium.
"Wouldn't it be nice if the 500 people on Capitol Hill came here to learn and improve and try to make things better."
What would a Beltway hockey brainstorming session be without a little political humor interjected into the program?
McPhee, who is entering his 15th season as the architect of the high-flying Capitals, is also a hockey dad who issued high praise to the grassroots coaches who make the game go.
"Don't ever underestimate the influence you have," said McPhee, who played college hockey at Bowling Green State University and won the Hobey Baker Award in 1982.
"I've been around the NHL for 30 years but my son (Graham) doesn't want to listen to me, but he will listen to Coach Mike and Coach Rob."
McPhee also offered his opinion about the progressive checking skills program that was implemented at the start of the 2011-12 season. After watching his son encounter checking as a first year Peewee he saw how checking hindered his skill development and the development of other youngsters.
"I want to commend USA Hockey for going in the right direction," McPhee said. "As someone who works at the pro level I know there is plenty of time to teach a player how to hit. There is never enough time to teach skill."
The presentations by McPhee and Eddie Olczyk, who wrapped up the evening with an off the cuff speech that ran the gamut of topics, the three-day symposium opened on a high note. Over the course of the weekend, the symposium will feature some of the most experienced coaches and administrators in the game, including Brian Burke, general manager of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team and general manager and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs; NHL head coaches Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche, N.Y. Rangers assistant coach Mike Sullivan, and former NTDP coaches Ron Rolston and John Hynes, who are both coaching in the American Hockey League.
For USA Hockey's 59,000 registered coaches, the National Hockey Coaches Symposium, which is typically held every year, is required to achieve Level 5 certification. Those attempting to attain Level 5 status must also write a thesis based on one of the main session presentations.
In addition to general sessions, coaches will also have the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to coaching through intensive breakout sessions dedicated to the specific age level of the players they're coaching.
Regional managers of USA Hockey's American Development Model, including Joe Doyle, Guy Gosselin, Roger Grillo, Jim Hunt, Bob Mancini, and Scott Paluch will serve as breakout sessions speakers.
The first year of Level 5 certification was 1984 as the brainchild of Ken Johannson, the creator of USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program, and typically feature a number of professional, college and international coaches discussing various aspects of coaching.
Over the years the symposium has grown into a celebration of grassroots coaches in addition to those who have achieved the highest levels of the game.
For the record, Olczyk, who will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 15, is also a hockey dad and he thinks that checking should be taught at a younger age.
"That's the beauty of symposiums like this," said Olczyk, who has made the transition from NHL coach to NBC broadcaster, "so we can have discussions and debates. At the end of the day we all want our game to be better."