Kris Belan and Ryan Martinelli are old teammates who took turns driving high-scoring Sergei Kostitsyn to the rink last year.
That history didn't stop the London Knights pals from dropping the gloves and fighting as training camp -- and the battle for the team's precious three over-age (20-year-old) spots -- kicked into high gear at the John Labatt Centre yesterday.
"I'd say it was a toss-up," Belan said of the scrap. "We all know the situation. We're friends off the ice and away from the rink, but it's different on the ice. We all know Mark and Dale (Hunter) have decisions to make and we're going to do what it takes to stay on this team.
"We're all in different roles. Mine is to hit, go to the net hard and take care of business the odd time."
Five players -- Belan, Martinelli, Robbie Drummond, Trevor Kell and Jamie VanderVeeken -- are competing to stay on a roster permitted to dress a maximum three over-agers each game. The Knights could carry a fourth 20-year-old as insurance for half the season, which might be wise considering oft-injured defenceman Frank Rediker missed large chunks of games last season as an over-ager.
Nobody wants to be in a No. 4 slot after watching tough guy Kelly Thomson endure frequent healthy scratches at the start of last season before being traded to Oshawa. The Londoner recently pulled aside Belan to let him know what to expect if he finds himself in a similar situation.
"He's in the same role I was last year and I wanted to tell him what I thought I handled well and what didn't work out as well, and how I would have changed it," said Thomson, who skated with the likes of David Bolland and Dylan Hunter at the JLC yesterday.
"It wasn't easy to sit out a lot but I had faith in the Hunters and it ended up working out well for me in the end."
Drummond recently returned from Vancouver where he took part in the filming of the hockey reality series Last Man Standing. He plans on being one of the 20-year-olds still skating with the Knights this season.
"In years, I've been here the longest of anyone -- I'm the old guy now," the Londoner said. "I'm excited to see how much talent the new guys have. As older guys . . . we can teach them leadership. There are a lot of roles and minutes that will have to be filled from last year. There's a lot of opportunity."
There's a chance GM Mark Hunter could trade one of his excess 20-year-olds and all five know it.
"This is where we all want to be," Belan said.
"You get 9,090 people in this building and it's not like this anywhere else in the league. It's the business of the OHL that you can only play three over-agers in a game. This year, we all bring different qualities to the table, so it'll be interesting to see who stays and who goes."
Kris Belan: Physical customer recorded 17 points and 129 penalty minutes in 62 games last season.
Robbie Drummond: Speedy forward recorded career-high 14 goals last season and added eight in a productive playoff.
Trevor Kell: Gritty forward was moved back to the point and quickly became one of London's most reliable defenders.
Ryan Martinelli: Large blue-liner scored one of the biggest goals in Knights history during playoff series win over Guelph last season.
Jamie VanderVeeken: Wallaceburg native recorded 12 points in 52 games last season, then picked up six points in 19 playoff games.