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Big issues, big names set to headline world hockey summit in Toronto

TORONTO - It might be a little on the expensive side, and it might take place during one of the last prime weeks of summer, but organizers of the world hockey summit believe fans will be rewarded for their attendance.

The four-day event opens Monday in Toronto, featuring some of the sport's most influential figures discussing pressing issues in an open public forum. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and IIHF president Rene Fasel will host separate question-and-answer sessions, while Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and Detroit Red Wings counterpart Ken Holland headline an impressive list of panellists.

"This would be hockey-nerd heaven, for sure," said Paul Carson, vice-president of hockey development with Hockey Canada.

The summit is open to anyone willing to spend $450 for admission. A special package is available for Monday night's event at the Hockey Hall of Fame, a Hot Stove session on sale for $150, with tickets available by phone or at the door.

A signature attraction has been scheduled for each day, with Fasel scheduled to speak on Tuesday, Bettman following on Wednesday and the future of the women's game set to dominate discussion on Thursday.

Delegates will have the chance to listen to panellists, ask questions and even make suggestions from the floor, according to Carson, who has been helping to organize the event for the last six months.

"You need to pretty well lay the cards on the table to be able to understand the hand that you've been dealt," Carson said. "And that's what's happening here, particularly in the areas of the female game."

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson has conceded there is a danger that women's hockey could be removed from the Olympics because of the way Canada and the U.S. have dominated the international stage. IOC president Jacques Rogge raised the issue after Canada won gold in Vancouver earlier this year.

Canada and the U.S. are the only two countries to claim gold since the event became an Olympic sport in 1998. They have also combined to win the world championship title every year for the last two decades.

"The challenge is, what are the second-, and third-tier countries currently involved in women's hockey going to do to elevate their game?" Carson asked. "And what is the plan? How do they draw from the best practices of the Canadian system and the American system?"

The event is sponsored by Molson, with involvement from the NHL, the IIHF, Hockey Canada, USA Hockey, the Canadian Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association. Its roots lay in a similar summit staged 11 years ago, after Canada stumbled in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Player development, international transfers and a global agenda will also be among the issues up for discussion through the week. Canadian hockey veteran Hayley Wickenheiser, Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman will be among those chatting on Monday.

NHL agents Pat Brisson and Don Meehan are set to participate in a panel on Monday night discussing the role agents play in drawing European talent to the Canadian junior system. That is the same night NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and KHL chairman Vyacheslav Fetisov will sit at the same table to talk about international contract issues.

"It's an opportunity to not only hear about these issues and what some of the strategies are, but to also be involved in the discussion about what is happening in different parts of the world," Carson said.

The event will shift to the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday, with player skills development and junior development on the agenda.

"The collaboration of such a broad and diverse range of partners in this initiative is something quite unique and quite special," Carson said.

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