THUNDER BAY – It is just 10 days away until the Thunder Bay Kings, in conjunction with Hockey Canada, Hockey Northwestern Ontario and the Thunder Bay Minor Hockey Association, host the TELUS Cup Canadian National Midget Hockey Championship at the Fort William Gardens.
Joining the host Kings will be the respective regional title winners in the Tisdale Trojans (West); Calgary Buffaloes (Pacific); Toronto Young Nationals (Central); Magog Cantonniers (Quebec) and Halifax McDonald’s (Atlantic) at the seven-day event, which begins April 22.
Looking back, the only other time Thunder Bay staged the national midget event was 31 years ago, in 1988, when it was dubbed the Air Canada Cup.
That year, it was the Thunder Bay Bearcats who served as the host side in the six-team field.
Finishing the round robin with a 3-2 record, the Bearcats tied for third in the standings and were second-best in the fewest-goals allowed at 15.
Their placing aided in the club in earning a berth in the semifinals vs. perennial midget power, the Regina Pat Canadians.
In that thrilling contest, Thunder Bay held a one-goal lead until late in regulation, when Regina, with their goaltender out for an extra attacker, tied it in the final minute to force overtime.
From there, the Pat Canadians would go on to win in double OT and advance to the final where they would defeat the Calgary North Stars in the championship game to capture their second of four Canadian titles.
Despite the heart-breaking setback to Regina, the Bearcats regrouped to defeat the Oshawa Kiwanis 5-4 in the third place match-up to give the Lakehead their second medal at the nationals, matching the bronze the Thunder Bay Andrews mined in 1983.
Among the standouts on that Bearcats squad was talented forward Greg Johnson, who went on to star at the University of North Dakota, help Canada win a gold medal at the 1991 World Junior Hockey Championship and an Olympic silver medal in 1994 before going on to a 12-year career in the National Hockey League.
Other future NHLers that competed in the Lakehead in 1988 were Wes Walz (Regina), who was the top scorer and Most Valuable Player award honouree, Dale Craigwell (Oshawa), Terry Hollinger (Regina) (Top Defenceman), Patrick Lebrecque (Laval), Rob Pearson (Oshawa), Chris Snell (Oshawa) and Brent Thompson (Calgary).
One of the two goaltenders on that Bearcats squad is current Kings’ president Michael Power, who fondly recalls participating.
“The 1988 Air Canada Cup was one of my most memorable moments in hockey,” stated Power.
“We came in as host and were the declared underdog. We went on to beat Laval (Quebec), Oshawa (Central) and Fredericton (Atlantic), but lost in the semifinal, in double OT, to Regina, the eventual winner,” added the former Edmonton Oilers draft choice.
“We bounced back though and came away with the bronze medal after beating Oshawa again and earned bragging rights in Ontario.”
The well-supported event is also something Power reflects proudly on.
“What I remember most vividly was the local crowd support. The semifinal game against Regina must have featured 2,500-3,000 local fans cheering us on. Our local fan support was a distinct advantage.”
As for this year’s TELUS Cup, over 900 ticket packages have already been sold for the week-long event.
Tickets remain on sale at HockeyCanada.ca/tickets.
TELUS Cup Canadian National Midget Hockey Championship
Thunder Bay, Ont.
All games at the Fort William Gardens
Thunder Bay Kings (Host)
Halifax McDonald’s (Atlantic)
Magog Cantonniers (Quebec)
Toronto Young Nationals (Central)
Tisdale Trojans (West)
Calgary Buffaloes (Pacific)
Monday, April 22
Toronto Young Nationals vs. Halifax McDonald’s 12 p.m.
Magog Cantonniers vs. Tisdale Trojans 4 p.m.
Thunder Bay Kings vs. Calgary Buffaloes 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 23
Magog Cantonniers vs. Halifax McDonald’s 12 p.m.
Toronto Young Nationals vs. Calgary Buffaloes 4 p.m.
Tisdale Trojans vs. Thunder Bay Kings 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 24
Calgary Buffaloes vs. Magog Cantonniers 12 p.m.
Halifax McDonald’s vs. Tisdale Trojans 4 p.m.
Thunder Bay Kings vs. Toronto Young Nationals 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 25
Tisdale Trojans vs. Calgary Buffaloes 12 p.m.
Toronto Young Nationals vs. Magog Cantonniers 4 p.m.
Halifax McDonald’s vs. Thunder Bay Kings 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 26
Toronto Young Nationals vs. Tisdale Trojans 11 a.m.
Halifax McDonald’s vs. Calgary Buffaloes 3 p.m.
Thunder Bay Kings vs. Magog Cantonniers 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 27
Semifinal No. 1: 2 p.m.
Semifinal No. 2: 6 p.m.
Sunday, April 28
Bronze medal game: 1 p.m.
Gold/Silver medal game: 6:30 p.m.