The sport of hockey has always elicited great pride in the culture surrounding the game, but Hockey Hall-of-Famer Pat LaFontaine wanted to enhance the experience for players at all ages.
Named one of the 100 Greatest Players during the NHL’s Centennial anniversary, LaFontaine sought a document that could unite all levels of hockey and serve as a written guideline for the sport moving forward.
“Hockey’s greatest values are the principles and life skills it teaches you,” LaFontaine said in a recent phone interview with NBC Olympics. “The real value of the game is the leadership, teamwork, discipline, sacrifice and the hard work that the game instills. Whatever you do in life, you can look back and say hockey was a vehicle that taught you those life skills and values.”
In recent years, LaFontaine worked tirelessly to gather representatives from all levels of hockey to discuss the state of the game and collaborate on cultural and structural changes to positively impact the sport.
The first step was defining their objective.
In early September, the committee revealed the Declaration of Principles - a set of commonly shared beliefs that articulate a vision of delivering the best possible hockey experience for participants and their families.
The Principles are meant to serve as an internal compass to help guide decisions and shift behaviors of hockey organizations, as well as players, parents, coaches, fans, partners and all those who represent and care for the sport of hockey.
“One of the proudest days for me was when the Declaration of Principles was signed,” LaFontaine said. “Because it’s the entire global hockey community coming together to aspire to be better and live to a higher standard. The real value of what the game gives and try to focus on what’s really important.”
As for LaFontaine, there are few former players, especially Americans, who have the background and resume to carry out such an initiative.
LaFontaine represented the United States on the Olympic stage twice (1984, 1998). He is one of a handful of American players to participate in the tournament as both an amateur and an NHLer.
“You couldn’t put a price tag on wearing a USA hockey jersey in a foreign country,” LaFontaine said. “To this day, it is still one of the most memorable experiences in my career.”
The NHL has elected to not participate in the Olympics after playing in the previous five tournaments dating back to the 1998 Nagano games.
“It is still this great game of hockey,” LaFontaine said. “It is still this great competition. There is still this pride in where you’re from, representing your culture, your country, your ideals. It is going to be a very unique and special experience.”
The Olympics present an opportunity for players of varied ages with different experience to come together to achieve one common goal.
The Declaration of Principles can play a meaningful role in the 2018 Olympics if any team decides to follow the parameters and use it as a resource to help form a unique connection and bond with a single goal in mind.