A distinguished panel recently gathered in Brighton, Mass., to discuss the future of ice hockey in the United States and ways to create a more diverse and inclusive culture.
Warrior Ice Arena, the Boston Bruins’ training and practice facility, served as a fitting venue for USA Hockey’s panel discussion, “Ice Hockey in the USA: Past/Present/Future.” Among those in the audience were leaders and interested parties from throughout New England.
The panelists, who brought a variety of experiences and knowledge, included: Pat Kelleher, USA Hockey’s executive director; Lou Vairo, 1984 U.S. Olympic coach; Molly Engstrom, two-time Olympic medalist; Blake Bolden, professional player and mentor/coach; Katie Crowley, three-time Olympic medalist and Boston College women’s hockey head coach; and moderator Darren Haynes, Emmy Award-winning sports anchor.
“Advancing efforts around making our sport as welcoming and inclusive to all is a priority,” said Kelleher, “and these types of panel discussions are extremely valuable as we work together with all stakeholders to shape the future of our sport.”
Stephanie Jackson, USA Hockey’s director of diversity and inclusion, noted events similar to the one in Brighton will take place in the future.
According to Jackson, attracting more varied audiences is a key component to future growth efforts.
“What we know about diversity is that representation is really important,” said Jackson, adding that children are more likely to come into the sport if they see current players “who look like them.”
Kevin Erlenbach, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of membership, said that while youth ice hockey has experienced continued growth in recent years, the organization is focused on adapting to changing demographics of the country. He noted that 50 percent of the nation’s 9-and-under population is multicultural.
One coach who knows all about the value of making sure hockey is for everyone is Vairo, director of special projects for USA Hockey since 1992. Vairo, a 2014 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, was instrumental in implementing the Diversity Task Force at USA Hockey, a program that introduces hockey to inner city and minority children. He grew up in a Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood that included children from many backgrounds.
In 1967 Vairo became one of the founding fathers of the Greater New York City Ice Hockey League in Flushing Meadows, Queens, which celebrated its 50th anniversary during the 2017-18 season. The league welcomed children of all backgrounds and never turned away a child because they lacked money or equipment. Vairo and his colleagues always found a way to provide for players of many cultures.
“We’re certainly excited about the future of our sport and in the end, want to enhance our environment so anyone who wants to be part of hockey feels comfortable and like they have a home,” said Kelleher.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.