The crest displayed on the front of their jerseys is the only component separating the Atom “A” West Mall Lightning from the Vaughan Rangers. On the ice, the competition may appear fierce, but once the jerseys are removed, the two teams operate as one big hockey family. While exchanging wins down to the wire with a divisional opponent can often be a recipe for bad blood, there has been nothing but comradery between the two teams, who even held a joint pre-season training camp and barbecue together.
“It’s through things like this that we can see that these kids are getting more out of their experience playing in the GTHL than just the notion that winning is everything,” said Lightning Coach Jeremy Bourne.
Rangers Head Coach Frank Stornelli also sees the unique situation as a blueprint for what minor hockey should be about.
“Let’s be candid, the vast majority of kids are not going to the pros,” emphasized Stornelli. “How great would this game be if we weren’t so worried or preoccupied about playing in ‘AA’ or ‘AAA’ but rather a great team with a fantastic environment where all kids and families have a terrific time.”
The respect shown between the two teams was on full display during a recent pre-season tournament tilt. After Bourne’s son was injured during a game, Bourne was touched to see players from the Rangers showing their genuine concern after witnessing the injury.
“Players from the Rangers looked me in the eye and said things like ‘Sorry to hear about Lincoln’, ‘I hope Lincoln is ok.’ It brought an honest tear to my eye and still does when I talk about it.”
The respect shown between the two teams goes beyond the players. Both Stornelli and Bourne share similar coaching philosophies, speaking highly of one another as people.
“A great deal of credit goes to Frank for instilling a level of respect that his team has shown towards others, especially our West Mall Atom ‘A’ team,” said Bourne.
Stornelli was also quick to credit Bourne, acknowledging the importance of the Lightning coach’s “respect first” style.
“Respecting the game, respecting the opponent, and ultimately respecting our teammates and coaches,” said Stornelli. “Jeremy and his coaching staff continuously demonstrate an incredible ability to coach the game we all love but also keep the game in perspective in that there are so many life lessons to learn over and above the hockey.”