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'We are the little association that could': Port Moody Amateur Hockey Association celebrates 50 years

PMAHA has about 375 members in age divisions ranging from U6 to U18
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Stephanie Naqvi has been the president of Port Moody Amateur Hockey Association for four years. The group is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season.

The 50th anniversary season of Port Moody Amateur Hockey Association (PMAHA) is as much about tenacity as it is about longevity.

“We are the little association that could,” said Stephanie Naqvi, who’s headed the group for four years and served on its board for 10 years.

With only 375 players in age divisions ranging from U6 to U18, PMAHA is easily overshadowed by neighbouring associations like Coquitlam, which has more than 1,200 members, and Burnaby Minor Hockey Association’s 800 players.

That can present a challenge for PMAHA’s ability to retain players, as they climb competitive tiers and have to seek opportunities for elite play in leagues and academies outside Port Moody, Naqvi said.

But the association’s small size also means everybody knows everybody and has a direct investment in ensuring kids and their families have a good experience.

“We need to make sure the product we’re offering is special.”

Naqvi said over the years, PMAHA has made significant strides to be as inclusive as possible.

It has implemented initiatives to help lower the cost of equipment through a partnership with The Hockey Shop in Surrey, along with its Learn to Play and First Shift programs for young players trying to decide if hockey is the right sport for them.

There are also development camps for goalies, and older players are encouraged to help mentor younger players.

The younger kids “think it’s cool when the older kids are out there with them,” Naqvi said.

The goal, she added, is to make PMAHA’s members feel like their hockey experience extends beyond the ice and rink boards.

“We’re building community members, really,” Naqvi said, adding the element most players carry with them when their playing days are over will not be the goals and assists they accumulated, but the connections and friendships they made along the way.

Naqvi said the importance of hockey’s holistic experience was especially apparent when PMAHA — and every other sports association — had to shut down for a stretch and then modify its procedures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the ties that bind suddenly severed, many kids and families were at loose ends.

“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Naqvi said.

Ironically, that renewed sense of appreciation should provide a sound foundation for the association’s next 50 years.

Already, it’s being tested with growing discussions across Canada about the seamier elements of “hockey culture” sparked by recent allegations of sexual assault by former members of Canada’s national junior team — and concerted efforts by executives to cover incidents up.

“Culture is always a challenge,” Naqvi said, adding PMAHA’s diminutive size means bad seeds have nowhere to hide and abuses aren’t easily swept away.

“It allows us to be involved.”

With Port Moody poised to grow as new developments come to the city to take advantage of its two SkyTrain stations, Naqvi foresees a day when two ice pads at the Port Moody Recreation Complex won’t be enough to meet demand — not only from PMAHA but also other user groups like figure skaters, old-timers hockey and the Panthers junior program.

There have been strains, especially after one ice surface had to be closed for several months in 2019 while a new refrigeration plant was installed.

As well, a maintenance issue at the main rink this summer delayed installation of the ice for the coming season.

Still, players and parents are keen to get back at it, with several special commemorations planned for the milestone year including 50th anniversary-branded PMAHA merchandise, dry-fit shirts and helmet decals, as well as social events for players and the community.