Home is where the ice hockey is played

Playing ice hockey brings families and communities together, say members of the Amateur Hockey Association of Mt. Pleasant (AHAMP).

That’s certainly true for Brian Knopp, who joined AHAMP when it began in 1987. For years, Knopp coached children, including his own, on the ice. His daughter, Brittany Knopp, started coming when she was 5 years old. Today, she is the manager of the Martin Ice Arena in Mt. Pleasant and runs adult hockey leagues.

The Amateur Hockey Association of Mt. Pleasant provides equipment and free hockey nights to encourage kids to try out the sport. (Photo Courtesy of Addy Wachter)“It’s just a family bonding thing,” Brian Knopp says “You spend a lot of time with your kids and your family and one thing I noticed with hockey is you really get to know your kids because you are with them two practices a week and then games on weekends. It’s a family bonding sport I always thought.”

His daughter agrees.

“To me, it was family and it seemed like home,” Brittany Knopp says. “I wanted to come back to that to put my own spin on it to make sure that it was successful and give the kids of our community what I felt as a kid and truly it was home to me.”

Members of the AHAMP run several programs to give kids, teenagers, and adults a low-cost opportunity to try the sport.

For example, AHAMP provides free gear so people can try the sport without first investing in costly equipment. The association also hosts events such as the “Learn to Play” program for kids between 3 and 9 years old. They host free events throughout the year such as the “Try Hockey for Free” program to let kids get a feel for skating and playing hockey.

The Amateur Hockey Association of Mount Pleasant hosted 'Try Hockey for Free' at the Martin Ice Arena on Sept. 25. (Photo Courtesy of Addy Wachter)“AHAMP is all about getting kids on the ice and playing hockey,” says Steve Hofer, President of AHAMP. “That’s what I love about hockey. It's just humble, it's hard work, and it's just another great sport that kids can get involved in.”

Hofer says AHAMP offers programs for different age groups. Mights is for 8 year olds and Squirts for 10 year olds. Once a player moves up to Squirts, he says parents start purchasing instead of borrowing equipment. By that age, kids know if they want to commit to the team-oriented sport

The association also offers youth and adult leagues that play against neighboring towns. The youth league also travels to tournaments throughout the season.

“We're putting kids out there in a safe environment and fun environment and that definitely benefits our community as a whole where we can provide those opportunities,” says Hofer, adding that AHAMP coaches are certified and complete SafeSport training.

Hockey leagues shrunk during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Amateur Hockey Association of Mt. Pleasant is hoping to encourage more kids to try the sport in the coming years. (Photo Courtesy of Addy Wachter)The program had humble beginnings. It started with an outdoor rink in Island Park and Jameson Park, according to Brian Knopp. Community members quickly saw the value, though, and raised the funds to build an arena in 1997.

Today, hockey association is primarily fueled by fundraisers, donations, and grants. According to Hofer, AHAMP just received a grant from the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation that allows them to purchase more equipment for the players.

In the last year or two, AHAMP has been trying its best to build the program back up after the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, six teams comprise the youth league. Before the pandemic, about 15 teams competed in the youth league.

“COVID was pretty rough on us, but we're in a re-building mode,” says Knopp.

When players graduate from AHAMP, their hockey careers don’t have to end. Players often move on to high school or even college teams. Some players take the family philosophy to heart and return to the association to help other young people discover a new sport.

To learn about upcoming events, check out the organization's Facebook page.
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Read more articles by Addy Wachter.

Addy Wachter is a Grand Haven resident who is currently a student at Central Michigan University. She plans to graduate during the summer of 2023 with a major in photojournalism and a minor in cultural and global studies. Along with working with Epicenter, she is a photographer and writer at Central Michigan Life newspaper who enjoys traveling and exploring new places in her spare time, always taking her camera with her wherever she goes.