With its leadership gone, what’s next for Hockey Canada?

Most of the major sponsors are gone — at least for now. The CEO and entire board of directors are stepping down. And the organization’s reputation is in tatters.

How can Hockey Canada be rebuilt as an effective and trusted governing body for one of the country’s most popular sports?

The solution, experts say, starts with the rather mundane (but crucial) task of selecting a new board.

“They just need to broaden where they’re looking for people to come in, and that will help them rebuild this brand,” said Paloma Raggo, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s school of public policy and administration.

She says an organization the size of Hockey Canada needs experts who understand how a non-profit should operate, rather than simply having a passion for the sport. 

The outgoing board, in her view, didn’t know about or chose not to use the powers it had to police the organization, which might have helped prevent so much scandal. 

Composite illustration featuring outgoing Hockey Canada board members: from top left to right: CEO Scott Smith, Terry Engen, Kirk Lamb and John Neville. From bottom left to right: Barry Reynard, Bobby Sahni, Mary Anne Veroba and Goops Wooldridge. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press, HockeyCanada.ca)

“We’re talking about one of the most important — if not the most important — sport in our country and a sport that deals with minors … families that bring their kids at five in the morning and the hockey rink. So people do care about what happens to the organization,” she said.

Assembling new leadership also gives Hockey Canada an opportunity to carve a path as a leader in the sports world, says Sheldon Kennedy, a victims rights advocate and former NHL player. Hockey Canada has been under scrutiny over how it handled an alleged group sexual assault involving members of the 2018 men’s national junior team.

Other similar allegations have surfaced, and Hockey Canada executives revealed the organization had paid $8.9 million in settlements to 21 sexual assault complainants since 1989, using a slush fund fed in part by membership fees from young players.

Kennedy says the organization must play a role in ensuring hockey is an inclusive sport from the grassroots level on up.

“Every time that a family, a young child — a young boy, a young girl — shows up at the rink, they have to be able to want to be coming back to that rink the next day,” he told CBC News Network. 

“This is about creating a healthy sport, this is about creating a healthy game, and I think we can get to the place where we can all be proud of this game again.”

WATCH | Minister ‘welcomes’ CEO’s resignation:

Sport minister says she ‘welcomes’ Hockey Canada CEO’s resignation

17 hours ago

Duration 1:18

Pascale St-Onge told reporters that the federal government is going to work with Hockey Canada to rebuild it after the organization announced that CEO Scott Smith and the entire board of directors resigned.

Hockey Canada functions as an umbrella organization for 13 member branches — many of which have also distanced themselves or cut ties — and establishes guidelines for hockey across the country. It also arranges for national teams to play in international tournaments.

Kennedy says the organization serves an important role, but that day-to-day activities at rinks across the country will go on while Hockey Canada sorts itself out.

“As far as minor hockey across our country, it’s going to run for the season,” said Kennedy, whose name has been floated as a candidate for a leadership role, along with others such as former player Hayley Wickenheiser.

Regaining sponsors

As for the sponsors — Nike, Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire, Esso and Telus, among others have cut ties with Hockey Canada or withdrawn funding for men’s hockey for the season.

Bauer on Tuesday also paused a multi-million-dollar commitment as the official equipment provider to the Hockey Canada men’s teams.

That company’s vice-president of marketing said the board resignations announced earlier that day were a step in the right direction, but that Bauer wants to see a greater focus on grassroots hockey rather than big international events.

“We really need to get more people into the game and it’s clear that what’s happening today is not meeting with people’s expectations,” said Mary-Kay Messier on CBC’s Power & Politics

Elizabeth Watson, an expert in board governance and founder of the Vancouver-based consultancy Watson, says restoring trust among the public and corporate sponsors will be a challenge — but achievable.

She says many Canadians with the necessary skills would be willing to work on the board, which is an unpaid role.

Transparency and clear objectives will also help bring back the sponsors that have jumped ship, she says.

“You have to recruit people with the utmost credibility, reputation for integrity and for getting things done so that the donors and sponsors will trust that this group will handle the resources that they’re provided with in an appropriate way,” she said.