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The Sydney Steelers and Northside Vikings are known to be bantam ‘A’ rivals on the ice, but last weekend the players showed their true respect for each other.
The newfound friendship between the two minor hockey teams began when the Vikings were forced to drop out of the East Hants Invitational tournament following Friday’s winter storm.
Four of the Northside players had travelled to the Halifax area with their parents on Thursday in an attempt to beat the storm and because the Vikings were scheduled to play at 1:40 p.m. on Friday.
The players were disappointed they wouldn’t be able to play in the tournament, but things changed when Vikings assistant coach Darren Amey made a call to the Steelers, who were also playing in the three-day event.
“My son, Colten, sent a text message to one of the players on the Steelers and asked if they needed any players,” said Amey. “The player told him to tell me to call the Sydney coach and it went from there.”
Steelers head coach Brandon Leterte said there was no doubt in his mind he wanted the players to be part of his team for the weekend.
“There was no hesitation,” he said, noting the two teams had played the week prior in an emotional game. “It was for the kids and that’s why we were all going up to the tournament, so it was a no-brain decision.”
Leterte was driving in white-out conditions on his way to the Halifax area when he received the phone call asking if the Vikings players could play with them.
Despite the bad weather, Leterte began working the phone immediately, contacting both minor hockey associations and the tournament organizer, making sure permission was granted for the players to play.
Leterte continued to make phone calls when he arrived in Halifax and, at around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, was told the players could suit up for Sydney in the tournament.
Because the Steelers' schedule was changed because of weather conditions, the team opened the tournament Saturday morning.
Vikings players Nicholas Bennett, Colten Amey, Maguire Black and Cohen Ross didn’t know what to expect when they walked into the Steelers dressing room but were quickly welcomed by the players.
“The guys were great and fun to play with,” said Bennett, a 13-year-old centreman for the Vikings. “We made some great friends, so the next time we play them it will be a fun game and we’ll be able to talk on the ice.”
As the Northside players began dressing for the game, they had their Vikings shin guard socks — green, white and yellow in colour — with them ready to put on. But that didn’t last long.
Once the Sydney players realized the Vikings players didn’t match with the rest of the team, they began searching and were able to find four pairs of Steelers socks, which the Northside players wore with the team's jersey.
“It was a bit different playing with them, but the four of us felt part of the team,” said Bennett. “As soon as we walked in the door they asked how we were doing, and wanted to know more about us — it was very welcoming.”
Like the Northside players, Leterte didn’t know what to expect. He thought he’d walk into the dressing room and see the Northside players sitting by themselves, but it wasn’t the case.
“The guys really blended into our team — they’re excellent hockey players and wouldn’t have hurt any team they played for,” said Leterte.
“They fit in well, anything I had to change to their game, they adapted to it well and they’re just all-round great kids on and off the ice — they made me very proud.”
Darren Amey was later asked to join the Steelers coaching staff on the bench for the tournament, adding to the support for the Northside players.
“I didn’t know what to expect because I didn’t know the kids,” said Amey. “The Sydney kids started calling me coach and were very welcoming to me — it was an amazing experience, for sure.
“Brandon did all the legwork to make this happen, he went above and beyond to let these kids play hockey and he didn’t even know them . . . it was amazing.”
On the ice, the Steelers went 2-1 in the round robin, picking up wins over the Cole Harbour Wings, 1-0, and a forfeit victory over — oddly enough — the Vikings. The team’s loss came to the Halifax Hawks 3-1.
“One of the Northside players scored the lone goal against Cole Harbour, so if it wasn’t for him, we couldn’t have won that game,” laughed Leterte.
Sydney was later defeated in the tournament semifinals by the host East Hants Penguins, 3-2, but they didn’t have the Northside players in the lineup.
“We left the next day, on Sunday, because we were getting another storm,” said Bennett. “We didn’t want to be stuck in Halifax — we were debating what we were going to do, but we decided to go home.”
Bennett couldn’t thank the Steelers team enough for letting the Northside players take the ice with them.
“We want to thank them for welcoming us to the team,” said Bennett. “They were all so nice to us and we really appreciated it.”
The Northside players have since returned to the Vikings' lineup and will face the Steelers on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Sydney Mines and District Community Centre.
“It’s going to feel a little different playing against those guys now,” said Bennett. “We’re all going to leave it on the ice and, when the game is done, we’re still going to be friends with them.”