Joe Drago helping chart the course of country's favourite game
Some day, perhaps, Joe Drago will slow down. Just not quite yet. He is enjoying far too much his most recent projects.
As executive vice-chair of Hockey Canada, the Sudburian is sitting in very elite company when it comes to the movers and shakers of amateur hockey in this country.
Despite his decades of involvement with the sport he loves, Drago still sees mountains to be climbed.
"I've had a lot of experiences in hockey, but there are some that I haven't had, and I thought they would be a challenge," said the Clarkson University graduate and career educator.
"One is to get some involvement at the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) level. The other thing that has really given me pleasrue is that I now sit on the policy committee for the Program of Excellence.
"It's very interesting to look at the way things are done with the World Juniors. It's a thrill to be sitting there, right on the scene of where things are happening, to have the opportunity to have a voice at the table."
A general manager with the Sudbury Wolves back in the 1980s, a frequent commissioner of what is now the NOJHL, and, more recently, as president of the Ontario Hockey Federation, Drago arrived at the Hockey Canada board table with some definite thoughts on changes he wanted to see.
Some have come to fruition, others not so much. The Sudbury native was among those who pushed the CHL to do away with the drafting of import goaltenders, adamant that Canadian junior hockey should focus primarily on the development of home-grown talent.
"The other thing I'm concerned about is skill development," he added. "We've come miles in terms of bringing quality people on board. Hockey is no longer the former NHLer, chomping on a cigar and yelling and screaming on the bench.
“We have a lot of really fine, well-educated coaches. Things are changing."
That said, Drago is not oblivious to the numbers, nor the work that remains to be done.
"Our top priority in the past couple of years has been recruitment and retention," he said. "We haven't hit the stride on the new Canadians as much as we would like yet."
Drago embraces the ever-altering landscape of hockey.
"We're working hard to get rid of that fallacy that you're going to get hurt, that this game isn't safe," he said.
"We still don't do enough to allow players to relax and enjoy the game. We have to have the right programs to get the elite players through, but we also have to have programs that deal with the great majority of the players who are not at the elite level."
Just six months into his current two-year mandate, the excessively involved local volunteer has been extremely forthright in discussing the most controversial Hockey Canada decision made in recent years — the abolition of body checking at the peewee level of rep hockey.
"We have too many people teaching body-checking that don't even know what body-checking is," he said steadfastly. "I get tired of hearing this word 'hitting.' It's not hitting; it's checking — and it's a skill."
In Drago's opinion, time can be a wonderful teacher.
"When I was a young guy, we fought a lot and didn't think anything of it," he reminisced. "But as the years went by, I see how kids really don't like the fighting. To me, when we use the term 'enforcer', are we talking about (pro wrestling) or about hockey?
"We have to make the game a skill game, a game of speed and entertainment, but it's got to be safe," he continued. "I think Canada is heading in the right direction."
And Drago is helping chart the course.
Randy Pascal is the founder of SudburySports.com and a contributing sports writer for Northern Life.