Big events on tap for Kelleher at USA Hockey

Big events on tap for Kelleher at USA Hockey

By Ian Thomas, Staff Writer


Pat Kelleher
Executive director, USA Hockey

For the last decade, Pat Kelleher has been at the forefront of USA Hockey’s efforts to increase youth participation in the sport. Now, after being tabbed as the governing body’s new executive director in April, Kelleher will immediately have two of the biggest international hockey events to further kick-start that growth.

“To say it’s a big season coming up for us is putting it lightly, no question,” said Kelleher, who replaced longtime USA Hockey executive Dave Ogrean, who retired after 21 years with the governing body. Kelleher was previously assistant executive director of development at USA Hockey, and has worked in hockey his entire professional career.

In a nearly two-month period between December and February, USA Hockey will host the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, which includes for the first time an outdoor game, scheduled at New Era Field between the American and Canadian U-20 men’s national teams, and will see its teams compete in the Olympics and Paralympics. In almost every competition, the U.S. teams are viewed as potential medal winners, with gold medals being the expectation for both the women’s team and the U-20 team.

While the NHL declining to participate in the Olympics hampers USA Hockey’s marketing star power for the men’s tournament, Kelleher said it’s a moment to showcase the success of the governing body’s youth initiatives since 1994, the last time amateurs played in the event.

“It’s a unique situation for players that haven’t seen this kind of opportunity in the last 20 years, and we feel it’s really going to show the depth of the player pool, whether it’s guys playing in Europe, playing in college or playing on AHL deals who are great players but aren’t in the NHL for one reason or another,” said Kelleher, who also noted the impact the 1980 Miracle on Ice team had on the generation of players he grew up with. “The quality of these players won’t be surprising to us, but I think for a lot of other people it will be.”

For the women’s team, which had a public dispute with USA Hockey earlier this year regarding issues related to pay and its CBA, Kelleher expects that more of the spotlight will be on that team fresh off its run to a seventh gold medal in the past eight World Championships.

While the NHL may not be involved at the national team level this Olympic cycle, its expansion to Las Vegas and energy in cities like Nashville are also helping USA Hockey grow across the country. The organization reported a total of 365,489 youth players in 2015-16, roughly a 2 percent increase year-over-year.

“Our goal for this year is success on the ice at the World Juniors, the Olympics and Paralympics, and success in these big showcase events translates to more support within our organization, whether that’s companies coming to invest with us, or kids and parents wanting to get more involved in the game of hockey,” he said. “At our core, we’re a grassroots organization with a million-plus members at all levels. Working together is only going to make us stronger.”