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Hockey, The Stepping Stone to Success [PART 2]

By Mike Toth on December 01, 2016

Justin Sinclair photo

In the last edition of HockeyNow, we introduced you to a pair of unique individuals who have used hockey as a stepping stone to success (Read Part 1).

Anthony Hollyoak, an expert from the world of business, has hundreds of millions of dollars in sales to his name and an impressive hockey résumé that includes serving as a head coach in the highly-respected Don Mills Flyers organization.

We also profiled Dave Bidini, an award-winning Canadian musician, who is also an acclaimed hockey author and a self-professed puck nut, who still laces up the blades for a series of weekly pick-up games.

In this edition of HockeyNow, we document the success stories of two other people who owe the game of hockey a huge assist when it comes to their high-profile positions.

Daren Millard is one of hockey's premier broadcasters, serving as an on-air host for NHL broadcasts on Rogers Sportsnet. But when he's not refereeing the popular Hockey Central panel on national television and radio, Millard hits the ice himself as a former Junior A goalie who is still extremely passionate about living a huge portion of his life between the pipes.

Fran Rider is considered the "godmother" of women's hockey in Canada. Rider is the long-time president of the Ontario Women's Hockey Association and is often cited as one of the people most responsible for the phenomenal growth that the female game continues to experience around the globe.

The road to success?

For a lot of people, it was paved by ice and HockeyNow is pleased to share some more of their fascinating adventures in Part Two of Hockey, The Stepping Stone to Success.


Daren Millard suited up as a goaltender from the word go and still finds time in his busy broadcasting schedule to hit the ice with top tier players, including a recent scrimmage with the Mississauga Steelheads (pictured with Gregg Zaun, right).


Daren Millard: The (Tv) Face Behind The Mask
Daren Millard is one of the faces of the game.

The veteran broadcaster is part of the Roger's Sportsnet team that broadcasts National Hockey League action, live and in living colour, across the country.

But there was a time when Millard actually thought he'd be placing his handsome mug in front of NHL pucks. Millard, as it turns out, was a talented young goaltender who grew up playing Triple A hockey in Brandon, Manitoba and then had a two-year stint in the Manitoba Junior A Hockey League with the Dauphin Kings.

And forget about a career in broadcasting. When Millard was just a sprout, goaltending was his first love.

"My first year playing hockey was when I was seven years old," recalled Millard. "The first game, somebody else played goal and the coaches asked if anybody else wanted to give it a try. I put my arm up, and my dad put my arm down. So I put my other arm up, and my dad pushed that arm down. And then I put my first arm up again, and dad finally said “okay." So I played my first game as a skater and since then, every other time I've been on the ice I've been between the pipes."

At the age of 46, Millard still slaps on the pads three times a week. In fact, during those nasty NHL lockouts of years gone by, Millard even had the opportunity to skate with NHLers such as Eric Lindros, one of this month's new inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I remember facing Eric and having him take a one-handed wrist shot at me, putting it top corner, and you just realized the power he had. I also played for a long time at a little 3-on-3 rink in Newmarket with ex-NHLers like Mike Gartner, Kris King and Bob McGill. Gartner came down the wing one time and he didn't take it easy on me just because I didn't play pro. He took a shot and hit me right in the face and bent my cage in and I now have the mask in my rec room. I want to get it signed by Mike one day to show that a guy who scored over 700 NHL goals once caved my face in."

And yes, just in case you're wondering, Millard has also faced numerous shots off the stick of former NHLer Nick Kypreos, who, along with former NHL coach and general manager Doug MacLean, is part of the entertaining Sportsnet hockey panel that Millard hosts on television and radio.

"I've skated with Nick a bunch of times and there's a certain amount of acceptance because I might not stop everything, but I stand in there and at least he's not afraid to shoot on me. I passed the test and there's a certain respect level in that. The other thing is that Nick and Doug didn't play goal so I have some credibility when it comes to an on-air discussion about goaltending."

Meanwhile, actually sharing an ice surface with NHL talent comes with other professional advantages.

"The opportunity to skate with NHL alumni or getting to suit up with current players during NHL lockouts has really provided me with a great gateway of opportunity. As a broadcaster, it's invaluable because you get a lot of extra information that other reporters just don't have the same access to."

A big part of the Rogers Sportsnet hockey package is the great chemistry between Millard, Kypreos and MacLean. It features a "take no prisoners" brand of humour that has its origins in the unique world of the hockey dressing room.

"It really helps being familiar with a locker room environment," admitted Millard. "Not to confuse that with Donald Trump, but a locker room environment features a lot of kibitzing and camaraderie. If you've never been in a dressing room situation, you may get a little wide-eyed by all the shots that go back and forth and you've got to know how to handle that."

What about other important lessons that Millard has gathered from a life spent in the crease?

"When you're a goalie and you let in a bad goal or have a bad game or practice, you have to rinse it. When you work in broadcasting, it's the same deal. If you have a bad show or a bad segment, you have to forget about it and move on."

To be honest, Millard doesn't have too many bad shows. With 18 years under his belt performing on national television, he's one of the most talented broadcasters in the country. But there's still a part of him that wonders "what might have been" when it comes to his passion for goaltending. 

"I was never that talented but there is a thought process when you're out with NHLers and you stop a guy like Eric Lindros, you can't help but think, ‘Wow! That feels pretty good. Why didn't I work harder when I was younger?’”

Still, life is pretty sweet for Millard. Thanks to young Canadian-based NHL stars such as Connor McDavid, Austen Matthews and Patrik Laine, Sportsnet's television ratings are expected to shoot through the roof. Meanwhile, Millard is enjoying his family life that includes two young daughters. Both of them play hockey and, yes, one of them shows signs of being a goalie.

"Both my girls are in The First Shift program. (Sponsored by Bauer, Canadian Tire and Hockey Canada) They don't use real goalies yet but every time they have a scrimmage, my oldest daughter heads straight for the net to try and stop some pucks."

And if goaltending doesn't work out?

What the heck.

It wouldn't be such a bad thing to see another member of the Millard family get into the broadcast business.

Fran Miller was recently inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame for her contributions to building women’s hockey (pictured at induction ceremony with Hockey Canada President Tom Renney, above, and with Gord Miller and fellow inductee Maria Rooth, left).

Fran Rider: Leading The Charge
No matter who you talk to in the game of hockey, they'll inevitably tell you the same thing.

"If you're doing a story, make sure and include women's hockey in the mix. It's the biggest growth area in our game."

That's music to the ears of 65-year-old Fran Rider.  She's been involved in women's hockey since the late 1960's, serving as the President of the Ontario Women's Hockey Association since 1982. Rider has a storehouse full of honours and accolades celebrating her life in hockey, including being inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame and receiving the Order of Canada. But hockey hasn't always been the only thing on Rider's crowded plate.

"I started out working in the banking industry and then got involved in a number of different entrepreneurial activities (including a family restaurant, and several real estate ventures). I moved into hockey on a volunteer basis. I didn't plan the life I'm experiencing. I just saw things that could potentially happen and moved forward with them."

Did she ever.

Today, more girls are playing the game than ever before. Canada is an international powerhouse and, on a worldwide basis, 38 countries are now internationally ranked in women's hockey; an astounding growth rate that Rider believes took root long ago. 

"I started out playing hockey in my backyard wearing a pair of figure skates and when I found a real team putting on actual hockey skates and real hockey gear, the environment was so welcoming. The tone of women's hockey back in those days was still competitive, but it was also about creating a spirit of cooperation and giving women the opportunity to learn new skills. We realized there were far more important things in life than the simple score of a hockey game. The score was part of the game, of course, but there were greater victories to be won.

The life lessons you receive and the support for women to feel good about themselves, the friendships you develop and the chance to bring more people into the game are far greater than the score of any game."

In the modern women's game, it's true that the score has become more important. Canadians, for instance, don't take it lightly when our Women's National team happens to lose to their American arch-rivals. But Rider stresses that a welcoming environment still has to remain at the forefront of women's hockey.

"When you're first thrust into an environment with some really good players and you don't even know how to take a shot or receive a pass because you've never played the game, every skill you learn is a major accomplishment. But when you get help from other players and coaches and you hone your skills to get to the point that you're actually capable of helping your team on the ice and they're not covering up for you every time, it's quite a personal victory. Women probably still sell themselves a little short, and it's important for us to continue to develop their confidence."

When it comes to developing a successful organization, Rider points to a number of philosophies that come straight from her hockey background. 

"That's what's so great about hockey. You learn right away that you're part of a team and you're only one small piece of the puzzle. There's a lot of people that go into making everything stronger. It's a multi-pronged world that we live in when you're trying to grow the game. There's so many different aspects to it – from the financial end, to marketing, to promotion, to the medical part of the game. What's so important is to make sure to find the best people to guide us. Establishing those connections is absolutely critical. One of my philosophies is that in everything I do, there's somebody who knows more about it than I do."

And Rider can point to some specific individuals who have had a huge impact on the success of women's hockey.

"When we were dealing with spinal cord injuries and concussions, we went to (renowned Canadian physician) Dr. Charles Tator and he's been so valuable to us. He's an outstanding resource and an amazing person and tapping into his expertise has been so valuable."
Hazel McCallion, meanwhile, the former longtime Mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, is another example of Rider reaching out for some "expert advice.”

 "In the days when people felt that girls shouldn't be playing hockey, we attached ourselves to individuals with credibility and rode their coattails. So when people such as Hazel (a passionate hockey player herself) would speak about women's hockey, people listened. It's important to find those advocates because people are geared to respect them and listen to what they have to say and it's our job to push them forward. There are some incredibly powerful and wonderful people who have helped grow our game."

Rider, of course, has been leading the charge when it comes to women's hockey and, when it comes to leadership, she has a core belief.

"The key to being a good leader is owning a solid value base. If you stick with a good value system and focus on the rules of fair play, you can usually come up with the right answer. You can never, ever get away from your values. You might see a short-term victory from taking the easy way out when you make a tough decision, but that only adds up to long-term defeat."

It's been a long road for Rider to help make sure that women's hockey is receiving the respect it deserves.

But it's obvious that, these days, the women's game is experiencing far more victories than defeats. 

Read Part 1 of Hockey, The Stepping Stone to Success with interviews with Dave Bidini and Anthony Hollyoak

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By Mike Toth| December 01, 2016
Categories:  Minor Hockey

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