Groups that use the ice at the new Port Coquitlam Community Centre (PCCC) are worried proposed changes in the policy for allocating time in the facility’s three arenas could shut them out, or at least send them scrambling to find ice time in other cities.
Heather Fox, the president of the Tri-Cities Female Ice Hockey Association (TCFIHA), said the policy amendments, which require user groups to account for where their members reside, could put groups that draw athletes from across the Tri-Cities at a disadvantage in negotiations for ice time at the $132-million facility.
Fox said the 300 girls and young women who play on Predators teams in various age groups come from Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam and Port Moody because there’s not enough female hockey players in each community to support individual organizations. The association books ice time in all three communities and even in New Westminster.
Fox said TCFIHA has never been asked to provide residency information anywhere it rents facilities. But a spokesperson for the city said residency has been part of its allocation policiy since 2019; the information just wasn't collected during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic because of limited usage anyway.
'WE BUILT IT FOR PORT COQUITLAM'
The new policy amendments were referred back to staff by council on Feb. 22 so information could be provided about members’ addresses, as well as the amount of time they purchase in Port Coquitlam facilities and in other communities.
Coun. Glenn Pollock said it’s only fair kids from Port Coquitlam should get priority access at their hometown facility.
“Regional groups shouldn’t get higher priority than groups with local kids,” he said.
Coun. Darrell Penner added, “Port Coquitlam spent taxpayers’ dollars building this facility. We built it for Port Coquitlam. We’re here to represent Port Coquitlam.”
The change comes as Port Coquitlam seeks to satisfy the increasing demands for access to facilities now that youth sports are back in full swing with the COVID-19 pandemic easing.
Those demands are leaving sports that use a dry floor instead of ice on the outside looking in, said the president of PoCo Minor Lacrosse, Josh Wahl.
He said the 450 PoCo kids that play box lacrosse in the spring and summer, as well as the 100 or so players at the junior and senior levels, were looking forward to getting into one of the Community Centre’s arenas in early February for tryouts, practices and exhibition games prior to the official start of the sport’s season on April 1.
COVERED OUTDOOR LACROSSE BOX 'OFF THE TABLE'
Wahl said his association had long been lobbying for a covered outdoor lacrosse box to accommodate its pre-season activities, but when the decision was made to build a third arena in the PCCC “that was off the table.”
Pollock agrees local lacrosse teams need more floor time at the PCCC now that it’s built and open. He told his council colleagues at the Feb. 22 meeting that Port Coqutilam’s lacrosse players have been deprived long enough.
Pollock noted that ice groups, like hockey, get access to the arenas as early as mid-August, more than a month-and-a-half before their regular season schedules begin in October.
“Lacrosse deserves that same opportunity,” he said. “Lacrosse is at a competitive disadvantage.”
Wahl said conducting tryouts and practices at an outdoor lacrosse box in February isn’t practical or safe. There are no lights at the facilities and the playing surface gets slippery when it rains.
Ice users don’t have outdoor options at all said TCFIHA’s Fox.
“This isn’t Ontario where you can have outdoor ice rinks,” she said.
Fox added she doesn’t understand the urgency for lacrosse to get going in February, as many of its players also participate in hockey, which is in its playoff season then, so kids likely wouldn’t be available for lacrosse anyway.
She said she was particularly discouraged when her organization lost one arena at the PCCC for its recent Ice Classic tournament because the ice had been removed Feb. 28, despite assurances it would be available for the event.
FIGURE SKATERS ALSO WORRIED
Sharon Kincaid, of the Port Coquitlam Skating Club, said she’s afraid any potential ‘PoCo-first’ consideration for ice time could impact her group’s ability to keep growing after it almost folded with less than 50 members just four years ago. She said more than half its current 257 figure skaters are from the city, with the rest from Coquitlam, Port Moody, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
“It’s definitely a concern we could get frozen out, she said, adding the group also rents ice facilities in Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows and Langley to accommodate its year-round activities.
Coun. Steve Darling expressed sympathy for the regional groups.
“We’re punishing the kids” that belong to regional groups, he said.
Mayor Brad West conceded greater availability of a dry floor was “a big part” of the decision to proceed with a third arena in the community centre. But, he added, the user groups should be able to “come together to figure it out.”
He added, “I don’t think we should get into a place where council should approve a schedule every year.”
That’s also the hope of Ramin Ahmed, the president of the Port Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association.
Speaking to council on behalf of all the ice user groups, he said they “believe in a collaborative, fair and equitable system in allocating resources” that facilitates youth being able to play in multiple sports.
Lori Bowie, the city’s recreation director, said that collaboration is already well underway, guided by the PoCo Sports Alliance.
“It’s our intention to negotiate an agreement that works for everybody,” she said, adding the contentious bottleneck amounts to about two weeks in March “that are the crunch to figure out.”
But for Fox, the uncertainty over ice access at the PCCC that could be a consequence of the changes to the allocation policy is disheartening.
“I thought a third rink would give us breathing room to grow,” she said. “But it won’t happen if we don’t have ice.”
Wahl said floor users are only looking for a fair shake, adding ice users got along just fine when the city had only two arenas.
“They survived on that,” he said. “Now that we get a little something, we have to fight for it.”