SYDNEY, NS — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part five of a six-part Cape Breton Post series celebrating highlights of the Cape Breton High Schools Hockey League from the 1970s through the 1990s.
SYDNEY, NS — Who doesn’t like a good rivalry?
From the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in the east to the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers in the west, rivalries are an integral part of the sports community and it’s no different in Cape Breton.
When it comes to the Cape Breton High Schools Hockey League, the rivalry between Sydney Academy and Riverview is a tradition that dates back to the 1960s and 1970s.
Sydney Academy and Riverview were among the largest secondary schools in the area at this time and there was no shortage of talented hockey players in both teams.
At the time, the rivalry between Sydney Academy and Riverview was one of the best in the province. Both teams went back and forth in the win column, the contests were close and physical and there was no shortage of punches.
The rivalry came to a head in the mid-1970s when an on-ice incident ended with the Sydney Forum being called by police for what can only be described as chaos.
Night to remember
On January 29, 1975, Sydney Academy and Riverview took to the ice for the second game of the fifth annual Winter Carnival, a series which began in 1971 between the two schools.
The contest, played in front of nearly 1,000 fans at the Forum, was billed as the high school hockey game of the year. Sydney Academy won the opening game 3-1 and won the series for the first time in 1973.
Sydney Academy were leading 5-2 with 6:44 left in the second half when the game deteriorated, but provided memories that will last a lifetime for the players and fans in attendance.
An altercation ensued between a player from both teams – a typical occurrence in the league in those years – but things got ugly when a second Riverview player jumped into the fight, resulting in a fight to clear the bench.
Marty Kolanko was on the Sydney Academy bench when the fight started. He remembers the Sydney team first clearing the bench to help his teammate.
“At the time, the Sydney Forum had two rows of benches and I was in the back row when things started,” Kolanko laughed. “I remember jumping over the other rows just to get on the ice – maybe I jumped over another player – but I knew I had to go.
Kolanko remembers being on the ice and getting in the fight, but at the time he didn’t think much about the situation other than that he wanted to help his teammate.
“It was a wild game for sure,” Kolanko said. “We were a group of players who came through the midget league and also played high school together, so we knew each other pretty well and each other’s abilities and we respected each other for them.
“The fight itself was wild, sure, but I don’t think it was ever over to be honest with you. In the end, it was a crowd pleaser and I enjoyed it.
Meanwhile, as the players battled it out on the ice, several fights broke out in the stands between fans of the Sydney Academy and Riverview programs.
“I remember jumping over the other rows just to get on the ice – maybe I jumped over another player – but I knew I had to go. — Marty Kolanko, former Sydney Academy player
According to Cape Breton Post records, police were eventually called to the arena and forced to help officials break up the fighting on the ice. Shortly after, referee Jerry MacPhee called off the game, which marked the 10th meeting between the two teams during the 1974-75 season.
Mike Kolanko, Marty’s brother, was in the stands for the game after finishing his time with the Sydney Academy program in 1974. He described the situation perfectly.
“It was total donnybrook,” Kolanko said. “It was one of the best fights I’ve seen to date.”
An incident report was submitted to the Cape Breton High School Hockey League and suspensions were subsequently issued.
As for goals scored in the game, Dana MacQueen found the back of the net twice, while Gary MacNeil, Albert Nordine and Ken Johnston contributed with singles for Sydney Academy.
Ian MacLeod scored both goals for Riverview.
Goalkeeper statistics were not available.
The incident happened two years after the two schools came together to form the “Combines” hockey team that won the Nova Scotia Junior “C” hockey championship in 1973.
While the games may have been close for the most part in the 1970s, Sydney Academy became the most successful team from 1973 to the early 1980s winning various league, provincial and tournament championships.
Due to the success of the scheme, the Sydney School had a target on their backs and this fueled an already growing fire between the Academy and Riverview.
Gordie Marsh played with the Riverview program from 1975 to 1979. He said every game between the two schools was a big deal, not just for the players but also for the fans.
“Every player on both teams was ready for those games,” said Marsh, who finished second in league scoring, only behind Memorial’s Jim Gillis in 1978.
“There were always nerves when we played against them because they were hard to beat, but you looked forward to the challenge – they got the better of us at times, but the games always seemed to be quite close.”
Marsh admits the community support for both teams really made the rivalry exciting as the players knew they would be playing in front of large crowds whenever the clubs met.
“The crowds were always in and it almost felt like a party feeling in the stands. When there was fighting on the ice, there always seemed to be fighting in the stands – it was a much different time in the game. era compared to these days.
Despite the fierce rivalry, Marsh recalls the players respecting each other because they grew up playing with or against each other in other leagues outside of high school.
“I started playing hockey in Sydney and my first hockey school was at Pier Rink and I had been there with Barclay Haddad and Kirk Blanchard who would later play for the Academy team,” said Marsh.
“When we started playing against each other, we always wanted to fight and have bragging rights and that’s what made it fun, at least for me during those years.”
Like Marsh, Gordie Rhymes echoed the praise from fans.
“The rivalry I remember most was the fans and the ice rink packed to the roof,” said Rhymes, noting that the two schools shared Sydney Forum for years before the Cape County Recreation Center was built. -Breton in 1978.
“People were leaving after work from the steelworks and queuing for tickets to get in. It was an amazing time to play for Sydney Academy or Riverview.”
When the Riverview Red Cup Showcase was established in 1978, the tournament only added to the rivalry with Sydney Academy winning the first seven titles, including the inaugural event with a 5-3 victory over Riverview on February 5, 1978 .
The rivalry between the schools remained strong well into the 1980s and 1990s.
“There was always nervousness when we played against them because they were tough to beat, but we were looking forward to the challenge…” Gordie Marsh, former Riverview player
Sydney Academy and Riverview still have a rivalry in the Cape Breton High School Hockey League to this day, but it’s not like it was at its peak.
In recent years, Riverview have taken over Sydney Academy, winning several league and tournament championships.
While both programs continue to strive to produce the best teams possible, Sydney Academy has had its challenges since 2015. In fact, the school did not form a team in 2017-18 due to lack of support. player interest.
The Sydney Academy program returned to the Cape Breton league in 2018 and is getting better every year under head coach Sheldon Surette.
Meanwhile, Riverview won four consecutive league titles from 2017 to 2020 with Jimmy Smith at the helm as manager most of the time.
Sydney Academy and Riverview will renew their rivalry on Tuesday when the two teams meet at 7 p.m. at the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre.
Jeremy Fraser is the sports reporter for the Cape Breton Post. Follow him on Twitter @CBPost_Jeremy.