If asked to name the SHL’s longest-running friendship, most fans would point to the “Love Line.” The trio of Hershey Bliss forwards have been friends and teammates since high school, and are well known for their tight partnership both on and off the ice. But there’s another pair of SHL players who’ve known each other even longer, and are currently fueling the success of 2018’s breakout team, the Hamilton Pistols.
LW Steven Alexander is the undisputed star of the Pistols; his blistering shot and goal-scoring prowess makes him a headache for opposing defenses, who try in vain to contain him. But in Alexander’s words, “I wouldn’t be half the player I am without my right-hand man.” He’s referring to RW Claude Lafayette, his linemate and best friend. “We are brothers,” Lafayette says of Alexander, “not by blood, but just that close.”
The two first met when Alexander was 11 years old. The winger hails from the small Alberta border town of Milk River, but he outgrew the local competition at a young age. “None of the goalies wanted to face me because my shot was too hard,” Alexander recalls. “Even playing shinny, no one could give me a game. Guys would have fistfights over who got me on their team, even though I was the youngest kid on the ice.”
Seeking a higher level of play, Alexander moved in with an uncle in Lethbridge, a much larger town about an hour away. It was there that he met Lafayette, who was then 15. “We played in an old, broken-down rink on Whoop-Up Drive,” Alexander recalls. “When I first showed up, I was so young and scrawny that nobody took me seriously. But then I started raining shots from all over the ice, and they had to take me seriously.”
Despite his obvious talents, it took Alexander’s new teammates in Lethbridge a while to warm up to him. They made fun of his ragged clothes and cocky attitude. Lafayette was an exception. “A lot of the guys treated Steve like a mangy mutt, always barking,” Lafayette says. “But I liked that he was so self-confident, especially for a young kid from the sticks. And he obviously had a ton of talent.” Soon, Alexander and Lafayette were virtually inseparable, despite their age difference.
At age 17, Lafayette signed on with a junior team in Calgary. Although he was too young for junior, Alexander moved to Calgary anyway and lived with Lafayette and his family. They continued to practice and play together when they could. But then at 20, Lafayette signed to play in the German league, and Alexander couldn’t go with him. It was the first time they’d been separated since Alexander first arrived in Lethbridge nine years before.
“That first year in Germany, I probably talked to Steve more than my family,” Lafayette said. “My teammates used to call Steve my girlfriend.”
But over time, their communication became less frequent as Lafayette focused on his career. Without his best friend, Alexander became moody and difficult. His own junior hockey career stalled after getting into a few too many scrapes with coaches and teammates without his friend to bail him out.
“Honestly, without Claude around, I was kind of lost,” Alexander admits. “He was always able to cool me down when I got too angry. With him gone, I went off the deep end.”
Eventually, Alexander all but gave up on the idea of playing hockey professionally. Then came the SHL. Lafayette signed a deal with the Pistols. He tried to get the organization to offer Alexander a contract, but after they heard about the winger’s struggles in junior, they passed.
But when Hamilton held an open tryout, Lafayette urged his old friend to come out. “I paid for his plane ticket,” Lafayette explains. “At first, I said it was to celebrate my new gig. But when he got here, I told him about the tryout. He brushed it off at first, but I told him, ‘Come on. Don’t you want to play together, like we used to?’ That got him on board.”
Alexander came to the tryout and dazzled the coaches with his shooting, they signed him up, and the rest is history. “I am forever grateful to Claude for bringing Steven Alexander to us,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire. “Even when I was skeptical, he insisted. And because of that, we have a great team.”
With Hamilton, the two remain as close as ever. Alexander has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since the league’s beginning (he’s currently tied for the league lead), and Lafayette is currently the league’s top assist-getter. They bought houses across the street from each other, and Alexander is the godfather of Lafayette’s young daughter.
“We’ve always got each other’s back,” says Alexander. “If they ever tried to get rid of one of us, they’d have to get rid of us both. We’re not letting anybody split us up again.”
It’s too soon to tell whether the old friends will be able to bring the Vandy to Hamilton; life doesn’t always offer such storybook endings. But either way, this pair of almost-brothers are writing a real success story together.