HHA turns the big 5-0

  • Lea Stone, of Littleton, N.H., tries to wave to Martina Vale Dwyer, who she used to nanny, of the Hanover Wild, during their game against the Laconia Lakers at the James W. Campion III Rink in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 13, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Joseph Ressler

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 10/25/2019 10:15:02 PM
Modified: 10/25/2019 10:14:51 PM

HANOVER — Adrienne Peraza, current president of the Hanover Hockey Association, was born in Virginia. Not exactly a hotbed for hockey, she admits.

She moved with her family to the Upper Valley in 2007 and, soon after, went to her first NCAA hockey game at Dartmouth College. Her kids enrolled in the town’s youth hockey program; her husband, Dan, returned to the Association to volunteer as a coach. She’s embarrassed to admit that everyone in her family can skate better than she can.

That doesn’t mean Peraza isn’t hooked on the sport.

The Hanover Hockey Association, the town’s nonprofit, volunteer-based organization for teaching and developing youth hockey, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend. The milestone marks a half-century for an institution that is firmly ingrained in Hanover’s culture — one that has helped produce high-level collegiate and professional players, hosted nearly 200 young athletes on about a dozen teams every winter and, in turn, made Hanover High’s boys and girls hockey teams into the consistently competitive forces that they are.

“(Hanover) is such a unique place, to have such a strong town team,” said Peraza, who is currently serving in her third year as president. “We get a lot of coaches who have played at the college level. It’s pretty cool to see who’s come through the program and have them come back as volunteers.

“It’s a unique pocket in the U.S. We have the dedication of parents and our coaches that just love the game. Hockey has always brought together a big sense of community. I think people want to see it succeed, to have fun and to do well.”

What started out as a youth hockey organization in a small pocket of northern New England 50 years ago has become an annual tradition in the community — assisted by the right climate, a passion for the sport and a supported NCAA Division I college hockey program in town.

For those who have been through it, playing youth hockey in Hanover has produced some of their most fond memories.

“It was different back then,” said Hanover High boys hockey head coach Dick Dodds, who came through the program in the 1960s. “There wasn’t a lot of travel. Everything was in-house. … I remember how exciting it was, how new it was, and all my friends were playing. I couldn’t sleep the night before practices or games.”

Added Jeff Graham, general manager of the Hanover Improvement Society: “Back then it was pretty small, with one team at each (age) level. There are long winters around here. That was a lot of quality time in the car with your buddies, before cell phones. … Some of my best friends to this day are kids I grew up playing youth hockey with.”

The Hanover Youth Hockey Association was started in 1969, according to its by-laws, by former Dartmouth athletic director Seaver Peters and former Dartmouth men’s hockey coach Ab Oakes. Peters served as the association’s president for 17 consecutive years.

“Those were the early stages of youth hockey,” said Seaver Peters’ son, Scott, a former HHA president and the president of Golf & Ski Warehouse in West Lebanon. “It’s funny: I think our nearest away game was Concord. We’d play Concord, Nashua, Manchester and Berlin. My dad and Ab played hockey at Dartmouth, were hockey guys and saw the void.”

The association, now dubbed the Hanover Wild, has now grown into a popular winter sports activity for many of the region’s young athletes. Peraza said the organization — which began its season in early October — will host about 250 athletes on 14 teams this season, a number that she admits fluctuates annually.

But youth hockey, it seems, has struck a chord in a town with favorable hockey conditions and enough passion for the sport.

The association attracts former collegiate and professional athletes to return as volunteer coaches and produces plenty of talent for its two varsity hockey teams that — despite a smaller school population — compete at the NHIAA Division I level.

“It’s the only reason why we have the ability to compete at a D-I level,” Dodds said. “Population-wise, we’re supposed to be competing in D-III. But the youth hockey association has done such a great job in developing players — and that starts at such a young age — getting those kids out and passionate. The Hanover Hockey Association has done a great job spreading the word.”

Added Hanover High girls hockey coach John Dodds: “We’d certainly still have a program; we just wouldn’t have the depth or the numbers. Our girls were the first publicly funded high school program in the country back in 1989, when the town officially voted on it. … They’ve been around for an awful long time. That’s probably not the situation if Hanover youth hockey didn’t exist.”

One notable product of the association is former NHL skater Ben Lovejoy, who retired from professional hockey earlier this year.

“It’s a pretty cool tradition,” Peters said. “Hanover hockey has produced such great people over the years. … There’s something neat about relationships you built as a young adult (that) can go on forever. Hockey in Hanover is a proud tradition that I’m thrilled to be a part of.”

The Association continues to grow and find ways to make hockey — an expensive sport with a long season — more accessible to more people. The HHA is taking over Campion’s snack bar this year, which will be worked by teams on different shifts as a way to raise money.

It is also hosting a 50th anniversary celebration at Campion Rink on Sunday from 2-4 p.m., where it will have a silent auction fundraiser to help raise money for its scholarship fund.

“It’s such a great sport, you really do play it for a lifetime,” said Dick Dodds. “It’s nice seeing the young kids out there, learning and loving the game with a passion for it. It’s definitely going ton continue to grow and be a part of the culture of the Upper Valley for years to come.”

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