Former NHL centreman and Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine skated for 15 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) and spent his entire NHL career playing for the League’s New York State-based teams (New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers). Still based in New York, LaFontaine is now the NHL’s Vice-President of Hockey Development & Community Affairs. A past leader on the ice, he’s now a champion for change in development and community, working alongside many NHL Green programs. A Keynote Speaker at the recent 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago, we caught up with the Hall of Famer to discuss healthy communities, the green movement and of course, Rogers Place.
As NHL Vice-President, Hockey Development & Community Affairs, what does your role oversee?
I’ve been in this role for one year now so I’m still pretty ‘green’ – pun intended! I report to Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner of the NHL, and it’s been eye-opening to see how the business side works since it’s a totally different angle for me. My role has helped me develop a great appreciation for the business, having been on the ice and seeing the playing side after 15 seasons in the NHL. As Vice-President, Hockey Development & Community Affairs, I’m involved in a variety of areas that fit nicely with my background whether it be from my time coaching youth hockey for 10 years to playing in the Olympics, World Cups, playing 15 years pro, safety and concussion awareness, playing from the development side, and then having run of a foundation for the last 15 to 20 years. The community side is near and dear to me so having some input with the NHL Foundation, NHL Green and any community affairs, such as helping out with player safety including the concussion side, has been extremely rewarding.
After learning more about Rogers Place at the 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit, what are your initial thoughts on Edmonton’s new downtown arena?
I learned a little bit more about Rogers Place from Oilers Entertainment Group’s Chief Project Development Officer Bob Black this past week in Chicago and I was quite honestly blown away by the scope of this project. I was expressing to him that I thought that Edmonton, not only with all of the hype and excitement happening with the Oilers team and first-overall pick Connor McDavid, has an amazing opportunity to make the standard or a huge mark in sports and sustainability by elevating the standards of green to a whole other level, which will set both Rogers Place and the Oilers apart from the rest. It’s just an amazing opportunity for any city, but with the way technology is and the way our planet is headed, especially in the green phase of understanding the importance of sustainability in our environment and protecting all of the resources we have – I just think the timing is pretty amazing with Edmonton, especially with the team and who is going to be housed in the new building. It’s pretty exciting and so Rogers Place should be celebrated as an up-and-coming sustainable trend setter in the sports world.
Can you tell us a little bit more about NHL Green?
One of the things on the NHL Foundation side is NHL Green and our latest awareness impact came at the 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago with Commissioner Bettman present and of course, Andrew Ference had a big presence there as well. Andrew has done an amazing job at pioneering and really being a face and voice for NHL Green. He’s inspiring other players and the community so hats off to him for leading this charge. Other players have stepped up as well, for instance, Mike Richter who is from my generation and was one of the first guys to get involved and understand the importance of NHL Green. The thing I’m most impressed with and extremely proud of is to be part of the NHL family, not only as a player, but now as an employee in that the NHL, Commissioner Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and the NHL’s Chief Operating Officer John Collins have supported this program from the beginning. They are not afraid to make a leadership decision to make a huge difference in our communities or NHL cities and they wholly understand the responsibility we have as citizens in North America to be a good example. I really think that NHL Green is setting the bar and setting a high standard for hopefully other leagues, other divisions and other organizations to want to implement or follow this example, which in a lot of instances they have. You dream of a world one day where just as though a restaurant or a business is being cited for their quality, they should also be cited for their green standard and what they are doing to help our environment. Maybe one day, there will be a green rating for every business, company and organization moving forward and I hope the NHL Green pushes and exceeds that envelope.
What were some of your key messages at the 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit?
Being a good community leader and good citizen, it’s all part of being green. I was telling a story at the Green Sports Alliance Summit that it was really my Islanders days where this all started for me. My Grandma on my father’s side had leukemia and my Grandma on my mother’s side had issues with arthritis and when I came to the Islanders in 1984, every single player was involved in the Long Island community. They all found something that was near and dear to them and at a very young age. I think one of the examples that was set for me as a young player was that what it meant to be a New York Islander was that you had a responsibility to be involved whether your passion and interest led you to the environment, kids, healthcare or local community groups. You had to give everything you had on the ice, but it was also expected that you take advantage of your position to give back. You’re in the public eye and it’s one of the things I really think about.
Hockey for me has really been a stepping stone. It’s been really all about the learning and the lessons in my life and understanding that it was a dream and a privilege playing in the NHL that I got to live out for 15 years, but it also taught me and prepared me for what’s really more important and that’s purpose, giving back and making a difference. At the end of the day, I think that’s ultimately where we all have to get to. This is why I commend Commissioner Bettman and the fact that NHL Green holds a leadership stake in the community taken on by the very top of the NHL who understand the responsibility of making the right decisions and the importance of giving back and setting up future generations for a healthy and sustainable planet.
What is NHL Green working on for this upcoming year?
Right now NHL Green is focused on taking all of the best practices and implementing them into more rinks, facilities and events. Obviously, we’re working hard on water conservation with climate change. We always go back to the question ‘how do we continue to build and retrofit existing hockey rinks and build new rinks with higher green standards?’.
I know that a lot of rinks participate in a program focusing on recycling, but also at the end of each hockey game, there is a real conscious effort to retain and keep non-distributed food that went unsold at games in a program called Rock and Wrap It Up. This food is preserved and delivered promptly to local food shelters and community groups in need which is nice because it stays within the community. All kinds of things are part of NHL Green, from energy costs to solar energy to absorbing energy in the water, obviously focusing on sustainability and avoiding landfills – even just by keeping and supplying foods – all of those things just add up to doing the right thing for our community, our environment, our planet and our future.
We’re part of an evolving process and every day we’re learning more and more as we go. This is how we grow our best practices and we get to learn from the Green Sports Alliance and its annual Summit the importance of challenging entrepreneurs, creative thinkers and sports organizations to continue to build better ways to sustain our environment and help its resources grow in a positive direction. Sports – being a big part of our culture and community in North America and around the world – I can’t think of a better awareness outlet and to be an example within our communities to do the right thing and to really back this whole green push.
Why is it important for the NHL to support sustainable and green arenas like Rogers Place across the League?
NHL leaders, players, managers, staff and, on the facility side, arenas and organizations, can be beacons of hope in the community for sustainability and future generations. Wherever you can take resources and supplies and increase your sustainability, reduce your energy and output, you should. We have done great things already but there’s so much more to be done and it’s an exciting opportunity to set a high green standard in new arenas like Rogers Place. Some of the technology and innovation I’m hearing about is just remarkable and it’s neat to see this green direction our world is taking. I think when world-class arenas like Rogers Place get built with a strong sustainability plan, it sends a strong message and it will be seen and heard by many. This is how we make being green common practice.
The evolution of this green movement and the fact that the NHL is in the forefront with Commissioner Bettman leading the charge and the teams and players are following, everyone is getting behind this green movement and it’s only getting bigger. I do believe that just as everything else evolves, this will become second nature. If you create greener communities and you’re allowed to spread that awareness and that knowledge and you set good examples and with it starting at the top, it’s just going to continue to trickle down. This is how we’re going to create healthier, sustainable communities. There is certainly power in knowledge.
With Rogers Place, Edmonton has a really special opportunity to open its doors and make people very aware of the green movement and how they can help play a role in creating a healthier community. I know Edmonton can be a shining example of the future standard of hockey arenas and facilities. With a remarkable Captain in Andrew Ference leading the NHL Green charge from Edmonton, Rogers Place and the Oilers organization will certainly leave their mark on sustainability.