Cathedral boys hockey coach Eric Johnson and Apollo coach Pete Matanich have been friends since the pair were in college together. Now as coaches of crosstown rivals, they will meet on the ice Thursday night to battle for the Section 6A hockey crown and a berth in the state tournament (7 PM, WJON.com-online only).

"I was desperate... I just moved to town and needed someone to hang out with," Johnson joked recently on Granite City Sports.

"He still is desperate," Matanich added.

Ashli Gerdes

"We worked together during our last couple of years in college, and continued to after college for a few years as well," Johnson said. "There was a lot of bantering back and forth, which has continued throughout the years."

They had a chance to work with local athletes in the area, and also had time to spend with one another outside of work.

"We got to work with athletes, and in between that of course we ripped each other pretty hard at work," Matanich said. "That allowed us to create a pretty good relationship."

The pair have met many times in the regular season, with Cathedral getting the upper hand most of the time. However, Thursday will be the first time that the two have met with a trip to the state tournament on the line.

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"We've stayed pretty normal throughout the week," Johnson said about the two's communication. "It's about the players this week, and which team will show up to play."

"I'm glad and happy for both of us for the opportunity to coach in this game, but ultimately it comes down to the players," Johnson said.

On the bench Johnson is a fiery coach who can become very animated, while Matanich is usually more docile during the course of the game. However, Johnson says he is "not the teddy bear" that some may think he is.

"Everyone talks about how calm Pete is," Johnson jokes. "Go look in his coaches' room and see how many things are broken."

"Do you know what the word calm means, do you know that word?," Matanich fired back.

"This year I would admit I may have gotten more fired up than in years past, but Pete isn't quite as calm as you may think he is," Johnson said.

Apollo upset top-seeded Alexandria at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria on Saturday, then watched from the stands as the Crusaders got past Fergus Falls 3-2 in 2OT.

"We knew we were going to have a challenge no matter who won the game," Matanich said. "Having Cathedral win obviously was fun, because we get to play back at the MAC."

A sellout crowd is expected at the MAC Thursday, with two passionate fan bases filling the stands on both sides of the rink.  The back-and-forth between the fans on Twitter has been mostly good-natured because a lot of the kids know one another.

Twitter

"A lot of these kids played together, as recently as a year ago," Johnson said. "Noah Bissett (Apollo) and Jeron Hirschfeld (Cathedral) played together last year on Bantam A for example."

"It's a crosstown thing, so there will be things that happen, but we tell our players not to do anything foolish on social media," Johnson said.

Thursday's game gets underway at 7 PM on WJON.com (Online only) and on the Radio Pup app.