Hull Seahawks boss Matty Davies on his respect for Sheffield Steeldogs rival coach Jason Hewitt
Prior to that, they spent several seasons butting heads in the Elite League whenever Hull Stingrays and Sheffield Steelers came together. This weekend, the pair will be on opposite sides of the ice again.
Of the two, it is Davies’ Hull Seahawks who will go into Saturday night’s derby clash against Hewitt’s Sheffield Steeldogs as the favourites, enjoying an impressive start to the season that has them sitting in third place in NIHL National.
The Steeldogs – following a summer of uncertainty over their ownership – have had a more mixed start to the 2023-24 campaign, currently sat eighth in the standings but knowing a win would take them to within two points of their rivals.
Davies, forced to retire from the ice last year due to a long-running knee injury, admits there was no love lost between himself and Hewitt during their respective playing days for the Stingrays and Steelers, the East Yorkshire organisation always taking on the ‘David’ role when attempting to get the better of their more illustrious, bigger-spending rivals.
But when they came together for the Hull Pirates in 2017 – player-coach Hewitt having joined the previous year after ending an 11-year spell with the Steelers –an almost-immediately discovered mutual respect made them a potent combination, one that went on to deliver success in spectacular style in 2019 when they won the treble.
The following season saw the pandemic intervene, Hewitt eventually finding a new home with the Steeldogs, while Davies – after more than 12 months out of the game – went on to spend a year with Leeds Knights before returning home last summer to set up the Seahawks.
The 2022-23 season was a tough baptism of fire for head coach/co-owner Davies and the Seahawks, but a positive summer of recruitment has left them in far better shape this time around.
He expects a tough night when he comes face-to-face with his former boss again.
“Looking back on the Steelers-Stingrays days, it was always feisty,” recalled Davies. “Obviously we weren’t on their level but for the fans and everyone connected with the Stingrays back then, that didn’t matter – they were still the team we hated and wanted to beat the most.
“Hewey was a centre, I was a centre, so we came up against each other quite a lot over the years.
“We never spoke as friends away from the rink or anything like that, so it was a true case of him probably hating me and I didn’t particularly like him.
“Then, when I signed for the Pirates, we kind of hit it off and I think the key to that was that we had respect for each other. And we had a great few years, it was a great room and we shared a lot of good times.”
Now, the two will take on each other again, rekindling memories, perhaps, of those battles from their EIHL days, even if Davies is watching from behind the visitors’ bench.
And while the Seahawks have enjoyed a better start to the campaign this time around – a total contrast to last year when they finished bottom of the regular season standings – he believes Hewitt will oversee an upturn in fortunes for the Steeldogs and what has so far been a stop-start season for them.
“It’s the right thing what the Steeldogs have done, getting him in charge. That team has gone through a lot this summer and for a while they didn’t know what was going on, but he’s definitely the right guy for the job,” added Davies. “I think he’s the only man that can take that team on board and lead them.
“And they always make it difficult for us. Even when Hewey was over here during the Pirates’ days, I think we always had the better team but it was never easy going into Sheffield. It’ll be no different this Saturday.”