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City rivals team up to form Troy United hockey team for next three years

By: Mike Moore | Troy Times | Published December 9, 2015


TROY — As head coach of the Troy High hockey team, this was a scene he’d witnessed dozens of times before, but one he was trying to firmly grasp for the first time ever.

As his team took the ice at the Troy Sports Center for the season opener, Tim Zimmerman stood behind the bench and stared across the way at those in attendance.

“Troy fans sat on one side,” he explained. “Athens fans sat on the other.”

No matter the sport, Troy and Athens own one of the best rivalries around, and some epic battles on the ice over the years only furthered that.

But now, and for the next three seasons, that rivalry will be cooled, so to speak, as the schools have teamed up to form Troy United hockey.

“It’s different, there’s no doubt,” Zimmerman said with a laugh. “At one of the first team meetings, I noticed my overhead projection sheet only had the Colts’ logo on it. So I had to get the Athens logo on there too. But really, on and off the ice, this hasn’t been an issue at all. These kids are playing hockey, and they’re playing together.”

It was a year ago when Athens didn’t have enough players to field a team, and because of that, closed the program for the 2014-15 winter season.

But this offseason, the MHSAA slightly altered its rules as far as unified teams and schools were concerned.

In terms of forming a unified team, any two schools where the combined enrollment exceeded 3,500 students wouldn’t be allowed.

But the new provision to the rule paved the way for Athens and Troy to do just that.

“In the case where one of the schools dropped its program due to lack of participation, this allows them to unify with another school for three years,” said Cody Inglis, hockey director with the MHSAA. “We will not continue this beyond three years, but the hope is, by then, Athens has built its program up to where being unified isn’t necessary.”

Zimmerman said he was at home one morning when he received a call from former Athens coach Joe Barone.

“And he said this might happen,” Zimmerman explained. “It was out of the blue, and the following Monday, I had player evaluations scheduled.”

By that Monday afternoon, Zimmerman had been told the unification was given the green light.

“My phone blew up, from just about everyone,” Zimmerman said. “But it was a good thing. I think at first when I told our guys about it, they were a little put off. But it didn’t take long for them to come around to the idea.”

“I think at the start, we all kind of questioned it,” said Troy senior Cam Mercer. “These are two schools that clash in athletics on just about everything. But once the season started and we got to know the guys, everything really worked well.”

On the 22-person roster, 17 attend Troy and the other five attend Athens.

There is no nickname for the team, though the jerseys still have the Colts’ logo.

“Purchasing all new jerseys for the entire team was a cost we weren’t ready to take on,” Zimmerman said. “But our apparel and everything else says Troy United. On game days, the kids from Athens wear their Troy United shirts to school.”

Sean Serafini is one of the five Athens students on the roster and said this year has been enjoyable from the start.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “The team gets along. There’s no real rivalry between guys on this team. You don’t know who is who in the locker room.”

The United squad spent a good deal of time together over the summer and many had played together before on travel teams.

“Really, when we started high school, that’s when a lot of us were split up,” Serafini explained. “Last year, not to have a team was so disappointing. To be back and to play for your school again is pretty special.”

So does winning, and the United team has done nothing but that so far.

At press time, the combined squad was 6-0-0 overall and 2-0-0 in Oakland Activities Association White Division play.

“The way we’ve come together as a team is huge,” Mercer said. “At the same time, the talent of this group is pretty strong. We’ve added some good players from Athens. … It was weird at first, but we all love it now.”

Zimmerman said he invited Barone to be a part of his staff, but Barone had family commitments and his role as a director with the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association.

And with a junior varsity roster of eight players from Athens and eight from Troy, the plan to get Athens back on its own feet prior to the 2018-19 season is already on track.

“I think the only people still adjusting are our fans, especially the student sections,” Mercer said. “They are so used to opposing one another. This is a little different.”

“They still sit apart,” Zimmerman said with a laugh. “But I’ve noticed them moving closer together. That’s a good start.”