Retirement just doesn’t seem to sit well with Brent Ladds.
The long-time president of the Ontario Hockey Association, who served as director of operations for Canada East at the first three editions of the World Junior A Challenge from 2006-08, Ladds retired from the OHA in June 2012 after 35 years, but was introduced a year later as commissioner of Allan Cup Hockey, the Senior AAA loop in Ontario, a position he still holds.
A move from Toronto to Calgary in 2014 to be closer to family led to a volunteer job as chair of Junior Council with Hockey Canada, and now the Rouyn-Noranda, Que., native has taken on a new role – he was introduced as the new president of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) on Sept. 27.
HockeyCanada.ca caught up with Ladds at the 2016 World Junior A Challenge to talk about his commitment to the game, his new role, and what lies ahead for the CJHL and one of its marquee events.
HC.ca: What keeps you involved in the game, even in ‘retirement’?
BL: It is events like [the World Junior A Challenge]. Seeing the commitment that so many other people make, sitting on the sidelines and looking at it from the outside motivates you; if there’s some way that you can get in and help, you should do it. That seems to be the ongoing motivation.
HC.ca: How did you come to accept the position as president of the CJHL?
BL: I was sitting at home one day, enjoying retirement, and I got a phone call; [the CJHL was] trying to administratively revamp its program, with a view of assisting the chairman, Kirk Lamb, who works as a lawyer in Calgary. A lot of it was done with the goal of making sure we could keep him involved; he is a great face for the CJHL and he has a great hockey mind and a great hockey pedigree. He played here in Bonnyville with the Pontiacs, went to Princeton, and now has a rather successful legal career working in Calgary.
HC.ca: With more than 40 years involved in the game, how easy is it to slide into the role?
BL: The experience does make it a lot easier, and the familiarity with the people you’re dealing with makes it a lot easier, too. To come into the position right off the street would be a lot more challenging, but the one thing I do have is the people have confidence [in me], and I have confidence in them, and I know where they’re coming from and what they want to achieve. I didn’t come in with unrealistic expectations, but with the commitment that we all work together, we can take it up a notch every year and make it better.
HC.ca: What are the challenges the CJHL faces?
BL: One of the things we don’t give ourselves enough credit for is the number of kids who come through the program who go on to either play professionally, or go on to work and be successful in careers away from the game. So we want to continue that and make it better, and ensure that the CJHL, within its 10 leagues, becomes a destination for players, a launching point. The other goal the CJHL has is to position itself better every year as a serious development program for players who want to make a career within the game. In the last 10 years we’ve been more successful, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve.
HC.ca: What are your memories of the 2006 World Junior A Challenge?
BL: Well, it definitely wasn’t as cold as Bonnyville. There was a lot of work that went into that with people who aren’t around the table anybody and deserve a lot of the credit, people like [former SJHL president] Laury Ryan, who was a prime catalyst. Our goal at the time was to find a way to bring players in our program and get them into a position where they could wear a national team jersey. This was the project, this was the program. Since that time it has evolved quite well.
HC: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the World Junior A Challenge?
BL: I think the attention it has gotten from the NHL has been the primary change, and the most positive one. The support the CJHL gets from Hockey Canada and the National Hockey League for the event is overwhelming. To a person around our governors table, we are truly grateful for that. The professionalism in which it is presented [by Hockey Canada], and the attention it gets from the National Hockey League I’d have to identify as the two biggest things. The other is the willingness to step up and host it. We struggled in the first few years to find hosts because of the financial commitment, and now it has been a lot smoother and has garnered a lot more interest.
HC.ca: Why is the World Junior A Challenge important to the CJHL?
BL: I think the importance comes from the attention it gets. It’s our July 1, if you will. The number of scouts that attend from the National Hockey League, the players that evolve out of the event – not just the Canadian players, but also the American and European players that have come to the event – I think people that might be skeptics [of Junior A hockey] can look at the program and say ‘Yes, it is truly a development program.’