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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Some steps away from the ice rink at the Sport Institute of Finland in Vierumaki other programs of the 2016 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp took place in classrooms. It’s here where administrators from 15 countries visited the Long-Term Development Planning program to learn more about converting dreams to plans and on strategies to hopefully make them come true.

While the team program with the players and team staff focused on Olympic-prospective countries, this program was open for all IIHF member countries and covered a wide range of topics.

“You’re looking for things like goals, objectives, measurable incomes, getting people to think long-term and think of a number of things to address and to prioritize and build time frames for them,” said Paul Carson, who together with Steve Norris led through the program.

They learned how to build development plans, to find the need inventory and plan based on it, about measurables, about model organizations, building leadership capacities and get the support to build the plans they were presenting to their colleagues.

Peeter Kirtsi from Estonia focused on building a network of ice rinks to increase the capacity for ice hockey in a country that is surrounded by hockey countries such as Finland, Russia, Latvia and across the Baltic Sea by Sweden but where ice hockey isn’t as big and only played in a few cities. The idea is to build rinks in the regions of Tallinn, Ahtme, Narva, Tartu, Viljandi, Rakvere, Parnu, Valga and Voru. That would lead to more players but it needs a lot of persuading with local authorities.

The ambitious goal is to increase the number of rinks by 2020 from five to 11, the number of players from 1,400 to 2,600, increase the number of youth hockey clubs from seven to 12 and grow the men’s league to a minimum of seven teams.

Several participants addressed officiating including Jonathan Albright from New Zealand and Daniela Montes de Oca from Mexico, who want to increase the number of officials with new initiatives. In New Zealand there are only 66 on-ice officials for 1,340 players. “The leagues have grown but officiating not. There’s a lack of understanding of the new IIHF rules. No officials from New Zealand were awarded assignments in the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 seasons,” Albright said and believes that due to the low standard of officiating the national teams get too many penalties in international ice hockey causing a bad reputation.

The unbalance is even worse in Mexico where only 19 referees (including three women) are registered and 1,900 players. Most games have to be officiated with two officials, the more important games with the three-man system. “We need to create an educational and recruitment program and work closer with clubs,” she said and hopes to bring in a foreign, Spanish-speaking person for an international course.

Attila Somogyi addressed a similar issue in Hungary but with getting more off-ice officials through a new development program while Franc Aci Ferjanic from Slovenia addressed the need of more on- and off-ice officials in his plan.

Another participant who came from far away was Harjinder Singh, the General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of India with his project “India 2020” to grow ice hockey in India in all aspects by growing in the regions and have more learn-to-play programs and camps and collaborate with other sports such as ice skating and inline hockey. There are plans for two international-size ice rinks that would help the sport that is currently mostly played on frozen ponds in areas close to the Himalayas. Additionally Singh hopes to equip six outdoor rinks with dash boards and for additional small rinks in shopping malls.

Also in its early development in ice hockey is Kyrgyzstan, one of the newer IIHF members. “One has to start somewhere” was the slogan of Maria Urpi, who wants to create an organizational framework for the federation and promote ice hockey as a sport. With little money available in the country, volunteers have been selected to work with the federation.

Burkay Altunas showed the fast growing hockey landscape in Turkey with rinks and clubs in Ankara, Istanbul, Erzurum, Izmir and Kocaeli and more rinks under construction in other cities such as Edirne, Antalya, Adana, Kayseri, Yozgat, Diyarbakir and Van. One issue he addressed is the lack of competition for kids under 14 years of age with few competitions and kids that can barely skate. He wants to bring kids born in 2003 and 2004 together in each city to provide them with more ice time, at least twice a week, and at least one game per team once a month.

Andrei Putilin presented a project where he wants to introduce a new study program for Belarusian hockey schools where student work on age-appropriate development models to improve the quality of regional junior hockey development, bring modern teaching and practice techniques to hockey schools and restore a national certification process.

Mike Horowitz from Israel focused on strength and conditioning, something he has seen first-hand at a world-class level with the players here in Vierumaki. He wants to address coaches and bring the national team players in better shape.

“Strength and conditioning is almost non-existent in Israeli hockey although some hockey schools are starting,” he said. “We want to have a program like world-leading countries, we want to do the same things as I see here at the IIHF camp in Vierumaki. It’s not just about performance, it’s also to not ruin the body of a player who wants to play hockey all his life.”

Terry Kiliwnik from Australia also addressed the national teams and wants to bring the program in alignment. “We’re not getting better in the world, we’re pretty static,” he said. “We are skating okay but need to improve skills and systems.”

Therefore he wants to align the different national teams in terms of systems, testing and off-ice training, and bring the knowledge to the different branches in the states.

Analogue to the “hockey girls rock” slogan for the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend program in Vierumaki, Xavier Cherta showed his presentation under the title “Spanish hockey rocks” and ambitious plans to move the sport forward in his country.

In Spain the hockey community has to live with few ice rinks due to the warm climate, that the sport is not well explained and therefore seen as dangerous in the population, with too little media coverage and early retirement. “Things don’t change much for players because only five teams play in the top league,” he said. He aims at breaking the vicious circle by making the competition more attractive and create a virtuous circle.

“The Spanish Ice Sports Federation has the aim to break the negative dynamic that stops the growth of hockey in our country,” he said and is working on a three-year development plan that includes a consolidation of the national league, attract elite players from inline hockey to create new teams, extend the league to ten teams and create an attractive league brand.

Russian Vierumaki student Vladislav Bespomoshnov presented a coaching certification system for the Northwestern region of Russia while Jovica Rus presented a project of the Serbian Ice Hockey Association to use a synthetic ice surface facility in Belgrade for skills development all year around in addition to proper ice training with the rental cost being three times less.

Most projects were about hockey in general although George Pogacean from Romania had a women’s hockey specific project to promote hockey for girls in the age group 12-14 and work together with schools.

“The presentations were outstanding. You can look at one area or several programs and build them in a specific order,” said Carson.

“People come with really good ideas. When you start the week off with planning and writing measurables and people come in and talk, you’re never really sure. But they were pretty sharp and the presentations good. They’re passionate about their development. The common language is ice hockey no matter which country you are from.”

Sometimes the enthusiasm for something new was almost bigger than needed though, Carson observed.

“Sometimes people forget when they are building that there is already an inventory that exists and that could be built on. I don’t see it just here, I also see it a lot in Canada,” Carson said.

It was the fourth consecutive time that such a program was held during an IIHF camp in Vierumaki. Carson originally started it as an Administrators Education Program in 2013.