Dudley-Hewitt Cup title game features all-northern final

Photo by Brian Watts
Photo by Brian Watts

Photo by Brian Watts
Photo by Brian Watts

FORT FRANCES, Ont. – For the first time in nearly a decade there will be an all-northern final in the title game of the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Jr. A Championship.

Tonight’s contest, which goes this evening at 7:30 p.m. Central/8:30 p.m. Eastern at the Ice for Kids Arena in Fort Frances, features the Soo Thunderbirds (NOJHL) (2-0-0-1) taking on the host Fort Frances Lakers (3-1) (SIJHL).

You have to go all the way back to 2006 to mark the last time there was not an Ontario Junior Hockey League team competing in the DHC final.

That year’s event was won in overtime by the host Fort William North Stars of the Superior International Junior Hockey League at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay as they defeated the Sudbury Jr. Wolves of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League in the finale.

The North Stars went on to fall in overtime in the semifinals at the RBC Cup falling to the eventual champion Burnaby Express of B.C.

THEY ARE BACK: The last time the Dudley-Hewitt Cup was held in northwestern Ontario, it was one of tonight’s participants that won it all.

Back in 2012 Sault Ste. Marie took the title knocking off the Stouffville Spirit of the OJHL in the final, which was held in Thunder Bay.

The Thunderbirds went on to the semifinals at the RBC Cup in Humboldt, Sask., backed by most valuable player in Soo goaltender John Kleinhans.

This is the third straight time that the T-Birds have represented the NOJHL at the Dudley-Hewitt when the SIJHL has served as the host league having also participated in 2009 in Schreiber.

HOST IS IN: With the Fort Frances Lakers of the SIJHL in tonight’s final, it is the fifth time since 2004 that the host team is playing in championship game at the DHC.

They have won twice and lost twice in the previous four times, with the North Stars win in 2006 being the last time the hosts won it all.

The Georgetown Raiders (OJHL) also accomplished the feat in 2005.

PACKING THEM IN: The fan support at this year’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup has been tremendous as the people in the town of Fort Frances have come out in full force to back the event in the community of 8,000 inhabitants.

Each of the evening games has been played to near-capacity attendance with the afternoon contests also featuring solid crowds.

Backed by a plethora of community-minded volunteers, corporate support and a tremndous organizing committee, the 2015 Dudley-Hewitt Cup has been a tremendous success.

BACK-TO-BACK: The Toronto Patriots bid to repeat at Dudley-Hewitt Cup champions fell short as the two-time OJHL Buckland Cup title holders were eliminated in Friday’s semifinal by the Lakers.

The last team to win successive DHC crowns were the Chateauguay Elites of Quebec, who won back-to-back Dudley-Hewitt Cup titles in 1993 and 1994.

The previous Ontario-based club to accomplish the feat was the Thunder Bay Flyers in 1991 and 1992 as part of a record four they went on to win.

RBC CUP: Tonight’s winner will move on to represent the Central Region at the RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A Championship, May 9-17 in Portage la Prairie, Man.

NEXT YEAR: Next season’s Dudley-Hewitt Cup will be held May 3-7, 2016 at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake with the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Kirkland Lake Gold Miners serving as the host team.

Gold Miners head coach and general manager Marc Lafleur won a Dudley-Hewitt Cup in 1995 as a player with the Thunder Bay Flyers.

DUDLEY-HEWITT NOTES: The Thunderbirds finished first in the round robin with a 2-0-0-1 record while the Lakers were 2-1 before winning Friday’s semifinal vs. Toronto. … Sault Ste. Marie is in their fifth Dudley-Hewitt Cup in the past seven years. … The last NOJHL Dudley-Hewitt Cup winner was the Thunderbirds in 2012. The SIJHL’s most recent DHC title was 2013 in North Bay when the Minnesota Wilderness claimed the crown. … Lakers head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan won a Dudley-Hewitt Cup as a member of the Thunder Bay Flyers back in 1991 before going on to play NCAA hockey at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., winning two NCAA hockey championships as a member of the LSSU Lakers. … Thunderbirds bench boss Jordan Smith is no stranger to the SIJHL as he was the bench boss of the Thunder Bay North Stars before returning to his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie and take over the coaching reins of the Thunderbirds. He also starred on defence for the Lakehead University Thunderwolves in Thunder Bay. … Strachan is a four-time SIJHL coach of the year while Smith has been named NOJHL coach of the year in each of the past two seasons. Both coaches were also named first team all-stars in their respective leagues in each of the last two years. …T-Birds forward Joey Miller was an affiliate on the Soo side that won the 2012 Dudley-Hewitt Cup in Thunder Bay. … Wyatt Cota of the Lakers leads the event in scoring with eight points in four games on three goals and five assists. … Cota and Boris Katchouk of the Thunderbirds both have a DHC-best two game-winning goals to their credit. … Katchouk and Soo defencemen Owen Headrick lead their side with five points apiece. … Dating back to the postseason and round robin play at the DHC, NOJHL playoff MVP Headrick has points in 13 consecutive games. …  Tonight’s DHC final is available online via pay-per-view at FASTHockey.com.

Live scoring of the championship game and tournament news and notes can be found on the Dudley-Hewitt Cup website at www.centralcanadianchampionship.com.