After a year hiatus because of COVID restrictions, hockey is back in Thunder Bay.
While ice hockey is one of Minnesota state symbols, it’s officially recognized as Canada’s official national winter sport (along with lacrosse) through the National Sports Canada Act (1994). Thunder Bay is a hockey hub—“Hockey Town”—that has seen more than 90 of its players end up in the prestigious professional National Hockey League (NHL).
There’s plenty of exciting, fast-paced hockey action happening in Thunder Bay, including teams such as Ontario University Athletics (OUA), Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) or Thunder Bay Minor Hockey League (Junior AAA, peewee, major bantam, minor midget U-16, and major midget U-18).
Home game action takes place at Fort William Gardens for the Lakehead Thunderwolves (OUA) and Thunder Bay North Stars (SIJHL), and at NorWest Arena for SIJHL’s Kam River Fighting Walleyes (name taken from the Kaministiquia “Kam” River that runs through Thunder Bay).
Lakehead Thunderwolves are Lakehead University’s men’s hockey team, playing in the league since 1968. They are in OUA’s five-team west section which, besides Lakehead, includes Brock Badgers, Ryerson Rams, York Lions and Toronto Varsity Blues.
Seven SIJHL teams play in Thunder Bay, as home and visiting teams, including Thunder Bay’s Kam River Fighting Walleyes (first place in league standing at the time of this writing) and Thunder Bay North Stars. Out-of-town teams are Red Lake Miners; Fort Frances Lakers; Dryden GM Ice Dogs; Wisconsin Lumberjacks; and Thief River Norskiers. All have interesting team rosters with excellent players from across Canada, the U.S. and even Scotland and Japan.
Some exciting hockey news for 2022; in a recent news release, the SIJHL in conjunction with Hockey Canada and Canadian Junior Hockey League announced the 2022 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Junior A Championships will be hosted by the Red Lake Miners and take place from May 10-14, 2022 at Red Lake’s Cochenour Arena. It will feature the playoff champions of the SIJHL, Northern Ontario Junior League (CJHL), and Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL). Red Lake is 355 miles (571 km) west by car from Thunder Bay. (The Dudley-Hewitt Cup was named in honor of two pioneers in Ontario amateur hockey, George Dudley and W. A. Hewitt, both in the Hockey Hall of Fame.)
SIJHL commissioner Darrin Nicholas stated, “It’s been my experience almost exclusively that the best atmospheres have been in smaller communities. The event really becomes the talk of the town, the focus of everyone’s attention for the duration of the tournament and the locals really go out of their way to ensure all involved are treated to a first-class event that showcased the host town and surrounding area.”
Now that hockey’s back, it probably won’t be long before another NHL player emerges from the Thunder Bay region.