Hockey Canada chose a hockey man for its top position by hiring longtime coach Tom Renney as president and CEO.
Renney, 59, was named to the post at a news conference Tuesday in Calgary. He replaces Bob Nicholson, who resigned earlier this year after being in charge at Hockey Canada for more than 15 years.
"I know that other candidates for this position were above and beyond anything I've ever experienced in my life, and it's an absolute privilege to be here representing Hockey Canada as the president and CEO," Renney said in Calgary.
The Cranbrook native spent parts of eight seasons as an NHL head coach from 1996 through 2012 and most recently was an associate on Mike Babcock's staff with the Detroit Red Wings.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said it was a "no-brainer" to hire Renney two years ago in Detroit and thinks his decades in hockey make him fit for the position as Hockey Canada's president and CEO.
"I'm sure that there's going to be some learning on the fly, but I go back to his experiences," Holland said in a phone interview. "He's presented, he's been an assistant coach, he's been a head coach. He's been involved with Canada's national program, he's been involved at the junior level. He's got lots and lots of experiences."
Jim Hornell, chairman of Hockey Canada's board of directors, said the selection committee was overwhelmed by the quality and passion of many candidates. Hornell is confident Renney was the right choice in part because of his skill as a consensus builder.
"In Tom, we know that we have an individual with great experience at all levels of the game, as well as a strong passion for hockey development," he said. "His coaching career spans the amateur, international and professional levels. He's worked within our branches and at the national level with our organization, as well, and has had success at all levels."
Renney doesn't have much of a business background, but his resume goes beyond coaching. He spent time as director of player personnel and vice president of player development for the New York Rangers.
But longtime NHL player and current TSN analyst Ray Ferraro thinks Renney's business intelligence is overlooked because everyone considers him a coach.
"Tom's an educated man, he's been around the business world for 30 years although his focus has always been on the coaching end of things," said Ferraro, who recalled when Renney ran a clothing shop in Trail, B.C., as he was just getting into coaching. "His passion was hockey, but who knew? You're coaching in Trail, right? Who knew there was going to be a grand career to this thing? Especially at that time."
Renney's hockey acumen is at the centre of the hiring, and those around the sport laud him for his experience and connections. In the past 23 years he has been head coach of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, Team Canada (including the 1994 Olympics), the Vancouver Canucks, Rangers and Edmonton Oilers.
"I've done a lot of wonderful things in the game," Renney said. "Without a doubt, and I've had a lot of great support throughout my career. Nothing will come close to today."
In his opening comments, Renney said his mandate is to make hockey enjoyable for people of all ages. Given the increasing cost of the sport, that doesn't seem like a bad place to start.
"I want to pay particular attention to development, I want to pay particular attention to grassroots hockey," he said. "I want people to participate in the game for the right reasons, and that means doing the right thing. Little people have to want to play this game, older people have to want to continue to play it, and when you get to that great old age of whatever it is, you want to play it as a lifetime sport."
When Nicholson resigned in April after 15-plus years, he said he wanted his successor to be passionate about those very things. Last month he took a job as vice chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group and on Tuesday through a spokesman deferred comment until later in the week as to not interfere with Renney's big day.
When Nicholson took over in 1998, Hockey Canada was going through tough times. Now, Hornell said there's a "solid foundation," and with it comes a different set of expectations for Renney.
"We have challenged Tom to take us now to a new level going forward," Hornell said. "A key focus will be recruitment, ensuring that hockey is seen as the winter sport of choice for Canadians, and that the programs not only provide opportunities for excellence at the national and international levels but also that we can attract and retain players and their families with skill development and fun activities that encourage teamwork and respect in minor hockey associations and in leagues from coast to coast."
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