When it came time to choose, Nico Armellin’s decision was clear.
“We were signing him up for house league and he was beside me – he kept saying, ‘put down goalie, put down goalie,’” Karry-Lee Armellin, Nico’s mother, recalled. “Sure enough, the Vaughan Rangers didn’t have a goalie.”
Nico’s twin brother Alex followed the standard house league procedure of playing both forward and defenseman, until it was his turn within the team rotation to put on the pads.
“He ended up being the last because they do it by number,” Karry-Lee remembered. “After the game, the coach came up and said, ‘he’s actually pretty good. Do you think you’d want to stay in net?’ And of course, my husband and I are like, ‘oh, here we go.’”
Hockey siblings aren’t uncommon. Even two sibling goaltenders may not be that far of a stretch in Canada’s game. However, Alex and Nico stand apart as a twin goaltending duo. Aside from one season that saw the twins play against each other – one for Duffield Black Select, and the other for Duffield Red Select – where they would jokingly rib each other as they skated by between periods, they have always played on the same team. The brothers were briefly with the Toronto Marlboros before spending the last six seasons with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens.
The last four of those six years have been even more of a family affair on the Jr. Canadiens bench, as Karry-Lee has been with the team as their trainer and running the defensemen door as well. It was an opening that made sense with her background in personal training, and it’s a role she takes seriously. Being a goalie parent is already a high-stress occupation, doubly so when the goalies are siblings, but for Karry-Lee, the challenge was always secondary to ensuring the top care of all players under her watch.
“My focus was the defensemen and just making sure the kids were safe,” Karry-Lee said. “We kind of had that deal where before the game and after the game, I’m mom, but when I’m on the bench, I’m the trainer and I’m there to do a job. Every once in a while, they’d slip and say mom. But most of the time, it was Coach Karry.”
Being both on the bench and at home, Karry-Lee has a prime seat to the boys’ development as competitive goalie partners on the ice, and close siblings at home. Alex conceded that early on, because of Nico’s headstart in the pipes, he often got the nod for the bigger games. This was a situation that only fuelled Alex’s desire to work on his game. Along with a well-timed growth spurt for Alex, this inspired true competition in practice and games between the pair – which Nico felt was the ideal situation for both of them.
“When I was playing the bigger games, I kind of felt for him because he’s my brother,” Nico said. “It’s cool that we got to grow up with each other and now we’re at the same level and just playing games… he’s always there for you, which is pretty cool because most people don’t have that.”
Playing at the ‘AAA’ level, a 50-50 split in the crease is not guaranteed for goalies, but for Jr. Canadiens coach Danko Mironovic, it was an easy decision when they were younger because they not only held their own each game, but the team in front of them was strong as well. Even as the team got older, the intensity increasing with each year, the twins still rotated each game.
In the twins Under-16 campaign through 2022-2023, tournament wins and the league championship evaded the Jr. Canadiens, however, the Armellin-unit peaked at the right time. The 2023 OHL Cup saw the duo pitch a perfect 7-0 record in the tournament while allowing a total of three goals through seven games.
“There were a lot of games where the other teams were pressing and they made two or three huge saves at the right times and it kind of just killed the other teams momentum and confidence – it allowed us to get back to playing our skill game,” said Mironovic.
Of course, there could only be one goalie between the pipes for the Championship Final – and it was Alex’s turn in the rotation. This meant it was Alex on the ice anxiously counting down the seconds in their commanding 3-0 win over the Vaughan Kings. As for what was going through Alex’s mind before the inevitable yard sale of equipment flung into the air, Alex shared he was excited to not only get the win, but also the record – for him, his brother, and his whole team.
A dream end to an eventful season, Alex and Nico are grateful for the way it ended. Now, heading into their first year of U18, the twins have decided to part ways and join different teams to, in a way, get out from each other’s shadows and forge their own development path.
“I’m most looking forward to playing him and having that battle as twins,” Alex quipped, a resemblance to their days with the Duffield Devils.
For Karry-Lee, she looks forward to what the future holds, but will always cherish the past years as teammates, and the time she had with them on the bench.
“Not only partners in life, but partners in net,” she said. “Most parents kind of have to be the outlier and they have their role in it, but I got to be in the depths of it, which was just an amazing experience.”