North East ice hockey legends' return feels surreal

North East ice hockey will go back in time tomorrow. Stuart Rayner speaks to players from either side of one of ice hockey’s historic rivalries.

North East ice hockey will go back in time tomorrow. Stuart Rayner speaks to players from either side of one of ice hockey’s historic rivalries.

JOHN Hutley is getting ready to do the time-warp again.

The defenceman thought he had pulled on the blue and gold of Durham Wasps for the last time four years ago, more than a decade after the club folded.

However, at Hillheads tomorrow, he will do so again as a team of Wasps legends take on Whitley Warriors for the Ken Swinburne Cup to raise money for the Children’s Foundation. Hutley is looking forward to it, while bracing himself for Monday’s “comedown”.

He said: “I remember the game four years ago and it was a surreal thing. It was like being in a time-warp.

“Everything was exactly the same in the dressing room. It was not full when we went out to warm up but it felt just like it used to.

“The next day was a bit of a comedown. I suppose Monday morning will be the same.

“ Four years ago I probably thought it would be the last time I pulled on a Wasps jersey.

“We all say, ‘this is the last time’ but you miss it. It is in our blood. It is hockey, just one of those sports.”

In the 1980s, games between two of the biggest sides in British ice hockey were notoriously feisty, but attitudes on and off the ice were completely different.

“You could have a fight on the ice, take a penalty or slash against them, but you could have a pint after and there was never a crossed word,”

Warriors D-man Dave Ross recalls. “There were never any grudges held. Nearer the end of my career I went to watch Durham twice and we went out in Durham.

“You would get a few people trying to rile you, but not many.

“When I was playing hockey I would never turn the other shoulder, but it was different on nights out.”

Desperate not to be shown up, both sets of players have been training together for weeks.

The die-hard fans, many not old enough to have seen a proper Wasps-Warriors derby, would probably be horrified.

Hutley added: “When you talk to the (Durham) supporters they do not really know the (Whitley) players like we know them.

“They see it from a one-sided point of view. You cannot make it into a war.

“I hope people do not turn up expecting bench clearances and toe-to-toe fighting but we are not just going through the motions. Once you get that jersey on it just takes over.

“I have a lot of good friends at Whitley Bay.

“They are a good set of lads, contrary to what the supporters think. We are all the same. We love to play for the pride of our home towns.”

The sadness will be that this fixture may never again feature teams in their prime.

The Wasps were brought into Sir John Hall’s sporting club in 1996. Durham’s rink went with it.

Successor club Newcastle Vipers folded at the end of last season, having themselves absorbed Sunderland Chiefs. The Warriors limp on as a third-tier amateur team.

Hutley said: “I was quite angry about it because it is just a shame there is no ice rink still in Durham.

“I walk past the building at least once a week and it makes me angry.

“It is such a shame because you know for a fact if there was a facility there you would fill it every week.

“There are all the arguments about whether a new team should be called the Wasps if it was set up in Durham. You are never going to get the history back, it has been and gone, but you would like to have a facility back.

“The city does not have a major sports team. It puts the place on the map. It gives kids something to do.”

Theirs may be the long-since defunct team, but the Wasps are expected to make up about 70% of the 3,500 crowd. Ross added: “Love them or hate them you have to admire Durham because the fans would turn up every week.

“They did not like me, they used to boo me a lot, but I recognise they have a good fanbase.

“They have tried Newcastle at Whitley Bay and Newcastle but the people will only support a Durham team.

“It makes you realise how far Whitley Bay had fallen.

“They just need someone to invest in it. It would be great to have a team back up there. The North East deserves a team at the top level.”

 

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