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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
A different day now for Joe Drago
by Randy Pascal

Just one step further up the Hockey Canada ladder has made a world of difference in the life of Joe Drago.

Late last year, the Sudbury native and retired high-school principal ascended from his role as Vice-Chairman of Hockey Canada, acclaimed as the new Chairman of the Board at the Annual General Meetings in Halifax.

"I'm involved almost every day of the week," said Drago recently, shortly before heading off for a week-long visit to Calgary, site of the Hockey Canada headquarters. "Tom Renney's (President and CEO of Hockey Canada) style is that he communicates with me three, four, five times a week."

"His method of operation is that he bounces everything off me," Drago continued. "I really feel good about that, because I know what's happening, I'm involved." This new position represents the latest challenge for the long-time hockey volunteer, having compiled a resumé that dates back several decades and covers virtually all aspects of hockey outside the professional ranks.

"A lot of things that have happened to me in hockey, happened on the spur of the moment, things that I didn't expect," said Drago. "I went to the OHF (Ontario Hockey Federation) meetings simply because I felt that the Northern Junior Leagues were getting treated like second-class citizens, getting no respect."

"I sat as an observer at the back of the room for over a year." That said, his timely contributions, albeit infrequent, were duly noted. The late Dr Al Morris, then Chairman of the OHF, approached Drago to run for Junior Council Chair.

Eventually, he would take on the role that Morris once occupied, getting a first hand look at a more national picture, sitting at the table of the Hockey Canada board meetings.

"I got so annoyed at some of the things that were happening at Hockey Canada," stated Drago. "There was an entitlement and a succession plan that I never agreed with. I always thought the best people should get the jobs."

A few years back, Drago took the calculated risk of resigning from his post with the OHF, seeking to join the national body. By then, he hoped, voting delegates could see what he brought to the table.

"To be in a hockey position, I think you should have hockey experience, and by that, I don't mean playing in the National Hockey League," explained Drago. "I've coached at every level except professional, and been involved in administration at every level."

"I think that it's very important to bring knowledge of the game and experience. I try and bring some good common sense, and understanding of what is needed. One thing I have learned is that grassroots is very important," Drago expanded.

"I've been in junior all of my life, and you realize quickly that if the grassroots aren't strong, then the higher levels won't be strong." These days, his plate, like that of his Hockey Canada co-horts, is a full one.

Focusing on key areas such as recruitement and retention, immersing new canadians into the national sport, and dealing with the fallout of a new governance model that has shrunk the Hockey Canada board of directors from thirty representatives to just eight, are just some of the priorities facing Drago and his peers.

Still, the voice of Northern Ontario understands that he will accomplish very little, going it on his own. "I have the same ambition as I had with the OHF," said Drago. "I thought I was going to be able to make them a little more cohesive."

"I wasn't totally successful, but you keep plugging, chipping away at it."

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