Are the Canucks redefining NHL hockey culture?


Daniel Sedin and twin brother Henrik, Canucks team captain #33, are exemplars of a servant leadership. Credit: Canucks

Hockey culture is adopting a leadership style that nurtures skilled communicators, system thinkers, and compassionate collaborators who build teams and community.

At least that’s the aspirational view University of Victoria leadership studies researcher Carolyn Crippen puts forward in her new study of servant-leader philosophy in the NHL, as exemplified by Henrik and Daniel Sedin and key members of the Canucks organization.

"A Case Study of Servant Leadership in the NHL," published in Interchange, a Quarterly Review of Education, provides evidence of the influence of the Sedins, Trevor Linden, Pat Quinn and others on the changing culture of the Vancouver Canucks, and provides expert comment on how their example could influence the NHL, aspiring professional hockey players, and sport in general.

“This study is about a side of hockey that’s often overlooked,” Crippen says.

Servant-leadership, a term coined by management researcher Robert Greenleaf in 1970, is described as a more humane, value-based and creative management style in which the leader focuses on the needs of the followers first.

The leadership philosophy that Crippen studies mostly within corporate and organizational cultures, she hadn’t expected to find in hockey until the Sedins and their playing style caught her eye when she moved to BC from Manitoba in 2009. As described in an earlier study in 2013, she says the Sedins stood out for their civil, respectful approach to their teammates, coaches, opponents and officials. She came to see them as the “culture carriers” of the team, a term used by Canucks GM Jim Benning in an interview with Vancouver sports writer Ed Willes.

“Daniel and Henrik lead by example with strong values and an unparalleled work ethic,” said Trevor Linden, Vancouver Canucks President of Hockey Operations. “They demonstrate the finest qualities of character both in the game and as community leaders to future generations of players and fans.”

A self-funded research project seven years in the making, Crippen’s study includes: hundreds of hours of close observation and analysis of games broadcast between 2009 and 2016, as well as at a number of live games and practice sessions; a lengthy interview conducted with the Sedin twins and, more recently, with Trevor Linden and two Vancouver sports writers; archival news research; and data analysis.

The Sedins, she found, demonstrate accountability, responsibility, proficiency, diligence, empathy, civic values, inclusivity, and continual growth of self and others. “All of these traits contribute to building better communities, both on and off the ice,” she says.

The original beliefs, values and norms established by Pat Quinn and then disseminated by Trevor Linden during his time as a player, team leader and now as an executive, continues through the Sedins. Because of their lengthy and stable history (18 years) with the team, she asserts that they’ve disseminated and reinforced a culture of civility and skill-based play that’s now embodied within young players.

The full study is available online (subscription required). To request a PDF copy, contact:

A media kit containing high-resolution photos and video clips supplied by the Canucks is available via Dropbox.

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Media contacts

Carolyn Crippen (Educational Psychology & Leadership Studies) at 250-721-7825 or

Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or

Ben Brown (Media Relations, Canucks) at 604-899-4609 or

In this story

Keywords: education, leadership, research, sports, educational psychology and leadership studies, canucks, hockey

People: Carolyn Crippen, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin

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