THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The 1996-97 season was arguably the best-ever campaign for the Thunder Bay Kings in their 30-year history.
All three member clubs in the organization had banner years, earning medals at either the provincial or national level.
Thunder Bay’s peewees captured the silver medal at the All-Ontario championship that season while the Kings’ bantam squad rolled to a provincial crown with a roster that featured future NHLers Patrick Sharp, Taylor Pyatt, Alex Auld and Aaron MacKenzie.
As for the midget team in ’97, they too went on an impressive run to conclude the year.
Taking on rival Kenora in the district playdowns, Thunder Bay went on to claim the title in a pair of hotly-contested match-ups at the Tournament Centre, including rallying from a two-goal deficit in the finale before prevailing in overtime.
Heading to the West Regional in Arborg, Man., the Kings opened up with a convincing victory over the host Interlake Lightning.
They then skated to a hard-fought triumph vs. the Tisdale Trojans from Saskatchewan and a win over the Pembina Valley Hawks from Manitoba to finish first overall and secure a berth to the final.
After a blizzard hit, the West Regional final was pushed back a day with the title game played on a Monday morning.
Meeting Tisdale once again, the Kings came away victorious over the Trojans once more and earned a trip to New Glasgow, N.S., for the 1997 Air Canada Cup National Midget Hockey Championship.
Making an ACC record-setting third consecutive appearance, (1995-Gold; 1996-Silver) Thunder Bay went on to finish in top spot after the round robin, skating to victories over the host Pictou County side, the New Liskeard Cubs, Calgary Royals and Charlottetown Abbies while their only setback came against a team from Quebec.
Meeting Calgary in the semifinal, the Kings rallied from a third period deficit the defeated the Royals 3-2 in OT to put Thunder Bay in the Air Canada Cup final for a third straight year.
Taking on New Liskeard for gold in the title match-up, the contest was scoreless after one period before the Kings erupted for goals from Tyler Williamson, Jeff Heerema and captain Jean-Paul Nault in the second stanza to take control.
While the Cubs got one back, Thunder Bay put it away in the third thanks to an Adam Levanen effort and a Game MVP performance from goaltender Joe Gallant to claim their second Canadian national midget championship in three years.
Among the national award winners at the event was Erik Adams of the Kings, who was named Top Defenceman.
Members of that 1996-97 Thunder Bay Kings – Air Canada Cup National Midget Hockey Championship squad included:
1st row (left-to-right): Joe Gallant; Doug Adams (Associate Coach); Eric Adams (A); Chris Sharp (A); Cliff O’Brien (Manager); Jean-Paul Nault (C); Tyler Williamson (A); Rick Bragnalo (Head Coach); Rob Illson
2nd row (left-to-right): Adam Levanen; Kyle Shaen; Nick Mallet; David Breton; Bryson Busniuk; Adam MacNeil; Jeff Heerema, Paolo Campagnolo
3rd row (left-to-right): Sharon McMahon (Branch Rep); Colin Shaw; Matt Britt; Lee Maunu; Stephen Silversides; Nathan Saj; Tom Annelin (Media Coordinator/Trainer)
The ’97 Kings will be among seven Thunder Bay sides that will be honoured during the course of the 2019 TELUS Cup Canadian National Midget Hockey Championship, April 22-28, at the Fort William Gardens.
The Kings, in conjunction, with Hockey Canada, Hockey Northwestern Ontario and the Thunder Bay Minor Hockey Association, will host the seven-day championship that will feature the respective regional midget title holders from across the country taking part in the Tisdale Trojans (West); Calgary Buffaloes (Pacific); Toronto Young Nationals (Central); Magog Cantonniers (Quebec) and Halifax Macs (Atlantic).
Tickets can be purchased at HockeyCanada.ca/tickets.
TELUS Cup tickets will also be available at the Fort William Gardens Box office Saturday at 6:30 p.m., prior to Game 5 of the Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Bill Salonen Cup final between the Thunder Bay North Stars and the Red Lake Miners that gets underway at 7:30 p.m.
TELUS Cup Canadian National Midget Hockey Championship
Thunder Bay, Ont.
All games at the Fort William Gardens
Thunder Bay Kings (Host)
Halifax Macs (Atlantic)
Magog Cantonniers (Quebec)
Toronto Young Nationals (Central)
Tisdale Trojans (West)
Calgary Buffaloes (Pacific)
Monday, April 22
Toronto Young Nationals vs. Halifax Macs 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 Macs 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 Macs 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 Macs vs. Thunder Bay Kings 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 26
Toronto Young Nationals vs. Tisdale Trojans 11 a.m.
Halifax Macs 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.