Trent Crane and William Irvine have been friends since before they can remember.
Through good times and bad, a tight bond was forged during their formative years in Morden. The boys went to school together, fought like siblings and were frequent hockey teammates.
They also played dozens of golf rounds together and were teammates on Manitoba's gold-medal winning baseball team at the 2016 Western Canadian peewee championship. They hung out constantly.
Their connection — Trent and William were born 29 days apart in the spring of 2003 — endures to this day.
"If anyone asks, I just tell them he's my brother from another mother," says Irvine.
Asked about their connection, Crane explains it this way: "I'd have to say it's because we both want the same thing for each other — to be better on the ice and off the ice — and we're always there for each other. Whenever one of us needs each other, if someone's going through a rough day, you talk to the other guy and help him out. I've always really considered him to be like a brother to me."
The brotherly bond was likely cemented in the summer of 2008 when William's father, Wayne Irvine, died of a massive heart attack. The boys, five years old at the time, became inseparable.
“If anyone asks, I just tell them he's my brother from another mother.” — William Irvine
While his older brother Alexander and mom Kim Kelley grieved Wayne's death, William found refuge nearby, often bunking with Trent and his parents, Tammy MacDonald and Darren Crane.
"I don't remember it super well but I do remember going through it and the changes that were made and it did affect my whole family quite a bit," says William. "It was pretty difficult because my dad — pretty much every day after work he would always take me out to the outdoor rink and I'd go skating with him. He's the one that taught me how to skate and how to shoot."
Kelley, who admits she wasn't well versed in the intricacies of minor hockey, came to rely on Trent's family when both boys developed into elite players — Trent as a high-scoring forward and William, first as a goaltender, and later as a dominant defenceman.
They were teammates during the winter season and William tagged along for annual trips to the U.S. for action with various spring and summer teams. In 2013, they were teammates on the Winnipeg Junior Jets team that participated in Edmonton's prestigious Brick Invitational.
"Tammy's family has really played a crucial role in opening up doors for William — he practically lived at their house," says Kelley. "They didn't live too far from where we lived and it got to the point during the summer months he spent so much time there they got him his own toothbrush."
In Grade 7, when Tammy and Trent relocated seven miles down the highway to Winkler, William moved in so the two could play on the same AA team.
Most recently, Crane and Irvine were teammates on the OCN Blizzard until the MJHL season was halted in mid-November and eventually cancelled.
But the next chapter awaits. The 18-year-olds are beginning a key stage in their hockey careers as regulars in the WHL: William as a defenceman with the Kelowna Rockets and Trent as a forward with the Victoria Royals.
With the B.C. Division hub season expected to begin later this month in Kelowna and Kamloops, players will be in quarantine for seven days beginning Saturday. They then travel to Kelowna for another week of isolation until March 20.
"We're both very competitive guys and you know we always want to beat each other at something, even when it comes to golf season." — Trent Crane
"It's been an amazing journey for William," says Kelley. "And I attribute a lot of that to Tammy and the fact that she kept her eyes open and opened doors for William and was willing to put his name out there and really took him kind of under her wing and me under her wing. Whenever I needed some advice about hockey or run into any issues, I just call Tammy and say, 'What do I do?' "
MacDonald, principal of Winkler's Northlands Parkway Collegiate, has grown to admire Irvine's empathy.
"I think Trent sees William as kind of his protector," she says. "William's a really resilient kid and he's very tough. He was way more mature than a lot of the boys were at a younger age and a lot of the kids were afraid of him. So, if anything went wrong with Trent, William was there like a shot."
But what will happen when the brothers meet on the ice in the B.C. hub?
"We're both very competitive guys and you know we always want to beat each other at something, even when it comes to golf season," says Crane. "When it comes to playing on the ice, I think it's gonna be friendship aside and time to work and what we can for each other's team?"
Adds Irvine: "I don't think anything crazy will happen but I'm definitely going to make sure if we're on the ice together that he's not scoring goals, that's for sure."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.