Luc Tardif watched from afar as Hockey Canada lurched ahead in a scandal-plagued 2022.
After meeting with its new board of directors — a diverse group that better reflects the country’s makeup — the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation believes the future is bright at the badly damaged organization.
Speaking ahead of the final day of competition at the world junior hockey championship, Tardif said he met face-to-face with board chair Hugh Fraser and the eight directors who were elected last month.
He came away optimistic.
“Those people who were named are perfectly able to redress the situation,” the Quebec-born Tardif said at a Thursday press conference inside Scotiabank Centre. “We don’t have to throw the baby (out) with the bathwater. There is something still good for ice hockey, but we have to correct.
“I’m confident about the new board, the new chairman, and we have to give them a chance.”
The previous board resigned in October — president and CEO Scott Smith exited the same day — in the wake of the federation’s botched handling of alleged sexual assaults and millions in hushed payments to victims using its little-known National Equity Fund (NEF).
Hockey Canada saw its funding shut off by the federal government, while a number of sponsors have pulled dollars since May when it was revealed a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players — including members of the 2018 world junior team — following a foundation gala in London, Ont., 4 1/2 years ago.
Hockey Canada and the woman quietly settled a $3.55-million lawsuit out of court.
The organization then announced members of the 2003 men’s world junior roster — the last time Halifax hosted — were being investigated for a group sexual assault.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
A series of disastrous heritage committee meetings on Parliament Hill saw Hockey Canada’s leadership grilled by MPs, eventually leading to the board’s resignation and Smith’s departure.
That came before the release of an independent governance review that made a number of recommendations related to leadership, transparency and how the NEF — maintained by registration fees and used to pay uninsured liabilities, including sexual assault and abuse claims — and two other funds should be managed.
Hockey Canada, which is in the process of hiring a new CEO now that the new board is in place, has also developed an “action plan” to tackle the sport’s toxic culture.
“The position of IIHF about what happened in this country is clear,” said Tardif, who’s awaiting the results of multiple investigations, including by police in London. “We’re following that closely.”
Tardif added that moving the 2023 world juniors out of Russia — due to the war in Ukraine — to Halifax and Moncton, N.B., instead of larger Canadian markets that have given the event a lukewarm reception in recent years was the correct call.
“There is a spirit,” Tardif said. “We saw that the two communities were a little bit more involved in that tournament. You feel the tournament everywhere in Moncton in Halifax.
“That was the best medicine for Canadian hockey and international hockey after this difficult year.”
Dean McIntosh, Hockey Canada’s vice-president of events and properties, said the organization wasn’t fixated on the financial side of these world juniors with so many sponsors jumping ship.
“Our focus has really been on, ‘How do we bring a great product back to Canadians?’” he said. “That has been a challenge as it relates to our sponsors.
“We think we’ve made positive steps over the last few months.”
Tardif felt the same.
“There’s damage, but now we have to try to see how we can work,” he said.
“We have to give them a chance to change.”
TARDIF ON NHL, OLYMPICS
Tardif wants a decision on the NHL’s participation at the 2026 Olympics by the spring of 2024.
“It give us two years to prepare properly (for) this competition,” he said. “I’m optimistic, but everybody has to do an effort to be there.
“You need to have the same rules as the other athletes. We are not a travel agency. We organize a competition.”
The NHL pulled the plug on the 2022 Games in Beijing because of COVID-19 concerns and hasn’t participated on the sporting world’s biggest stage since 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
“If we discussed directly with the players — the players want to go — we would find a way,” Tardif said. “But it’s more complicated than that.”
WORLD CUP TIMING
Tardif said the IIHF isn’t a fan of the reimagined World Cup of Hockey being played in February because of the impact on European leagues and how close it would be to the men’s world championships in May.
The NHL hoped the World Cup would return in 2024, but it now won’t happen until the following year — at the earliest — because of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s banishment from international play.
“That’s a big problem for us,” Tardif said of a winter event. “We prefer August, September, October.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press