THUNDER BAY – The Thunder Bay Kings, along with the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), announced Thursday that three of the Kings four competing clubs have officially been granted membership in the under-15, U-16, and U-18 AAA divisions of the GTHL.
This announcement comes with the full approval of the GTHL, Hockey Northwestern Ontario (HNO), the Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF), and Hockey Canada.
In joining the GTHL, Thunder Bay becomes the 13th member in their U-15, U-16, and U-18 AAA divisions.
“This is a monumental step forward for AAA hockey in northwestern Ontario,” offered Kings’ president Michael Power.
The GTHL is a premier AAA hockey league in Canada and one of the most scouted organizations by the OHL, CJHL, NCAA, and U SPORTS,” added Power. “Our membership and active participation can only benefit the next generation of Staal’s, Pyatt’s, Sharp’s, Murray’s and Johnson’s on being recruited out of the Kings organization to compete at the next level.”
The clubs that currently play in GTHL’s three age groups that Thunder Bay will be part of including the Don Mills Flyers; Markham Majors; Mississauga Rebels; Mississauga Reps; Mississauga Senators; North York Rangers; Toronto Jr. Canadiens; Toronto Marlboros; Toronto Red Wings; Toronto Titans; Toronto Young Nationals and the Vaughan Kings.
Local hockey fans are undoubtedly familiar with the GTHL’s Toronto Young Nationals who captured the 2019 TELUS Cup, Canadian U-18 championship, which was hosted by the Kings at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay.
“The GTHL is pleased about the addition of the Thunder Bay Kings to our AAA league, stated Scott Oakman, executive director, and chief operating officer of the GTHL.
“The participation of these teams in our league will create an improved player environment by the result of reduced travel and reduced expenses to the families and organization,” supplied Oakman. It will also allow the players the opportunity to spend significantly more time at home and in turn, makes their participation in our league a logical choice.”
“We welcome them and look forward to having them compete with the other 12 GTHL AAA organizations.”
The overall move to the GTHL was precipitated due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the current cross-border travel issues associated with Thunder Bay playing in the U.S.-based North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL).
There the U-16 and U-18 sides competed with the U-15s also played in various contests, with all their NAPHL games being contested in the U.S.
Through the continued uncertainty of the Canada/U.S. border closure and the challenges faced with the U.S. dollar exchange rate, as well as the costs associated with this, the organization began discussions on feasible choices to return to Canada to compete.
With that, the Kings’ executive board evaluated the option of transitioning from the NAPHL to a return to play scenario involving the GTHL.
From there, the Kings approached both Hockey Northwestern Ontario and the GTHL in May where they received a positive reception from both parties.
With a conditional agreement from the GTHL, HNO approval was granted in July while the OHF and Hockey Canada did likewise, in August.
Of note, the Kings will require formal approval from Hockey Canada, yearly, for out of branch competition, as was the case with them playing in the NAPHL.
As a full member of the GTHL, the three Thunder Bay AAA sides will play a 36-game regular-season schedule, plus playoffs, where they would compete for league championships in their respective divisions.
The Kings’ clubs will also continue taking part in HNO district playdowns while the U-16s would participate in the OHL Cup showcase event.
Meanwhile, should they advance, the U-15s would skate in the All-Ontario championship and the U-18s would compete in the TELUS Cup West Regional in an attempt to participate in the TELUS Cup nationals.
All competition however remains contingent on the ‘Return to Play’ scenarios set by the GTHL, OHF, HNO, and the various provincial health organizations.
“I would like to congratulate the Thunder Bay Kings AAA Program on becoming members of the GTHL,” said HNO president Jason Perrier in a statement.
“I would also like to thank Michael Power, president of the Thunder Bay Kings and Scott Oakman, executive director and chief operating officer of the GHTL, for all their hard work behind the scenes in making this partnership happen,” added Perrier. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our teams and players. I look forward to the start of the season.”
Further updates on Kings’ GTHL game schedule, along with any other relative information pertaining to competition in the league will be announced when it becomes available.
As for Thunder Bay’s fourth team, the U-13 Kings are slated to once again play in the U-14 age brackets within the ranks of the Thunder Bay Minor Hockey Association.
Tryouts for the Thunder Bay Kings are tentatively set to commence September 14.
More information on tryouts can be found online at thunderbaykings.com.
ABOUT THE GTHL
Founded in 1911, the GTHL is a non-profit organization and the largest minor hockey league in the world.
The GTHL registers more than 40,000 annual participants in Mississauga, Toronto, Markham and Vaughan.
The purpose of the GTHL is to govern organized hockey for youth within its jurisdiction, and to foster the development of good character, citizenship and sportsmanship.
gthlcanada.com (Website) • @GTHLHockey (Twitter) • /GTHLHockey (Facebook)
ABOUT THE THUNDER BAY KINGS
First launched back in 1988, the Thunder Bay Kings have gone on to achieve great success in their 30-plus years of operation at the AAA minor hockey level.
Boasting multiple branch, provincial and national championships, the organization has helped develop and produce a plethora of hockey talent over the past three decades.
Kings alumni who competed in the National Hockey League during the 2019-20 season include Mackenzie Blackwood, (G) New Jersey Devils; Robert Bortuzzo, (D) St. Louis Blues; Matt Murray, (G) Pittsburgh Penguins; Eric Staal, (C) Minnesota Wild; Jordan Staal, (C) Carolina Hurricanes and Marc Staal, (D) New York Rangers.
Since its inception, 20 former members of the Kings have gone on to play in the NHL while many others were NHL draft selections.
This includes Stanley Cup winners Patrick Sharp (3); Matt Murray (2); Robert Bortuzzo, Eric Staal and Jordan Staal.
Many former Kings have also competed for Canada internationally, winning World Junior Hockey Championship, World Hockey Championship and Winter Olympic Gold.
Of note, Kings’ alumnus Trevor Letowski, currently the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires, is one of three individuals to win World Junior Gold as both a player and coach.
You also have Eric Staal being a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) exclusive Triple Gold Club, which features those who have won an Olympic Games gold medal, a World Championship gold medal and the Stanley Cup.
Other Kings alums, such as Tom Pyatt and Marc Staal, helped Canada win back-to-back World Junior Hockey Championships while Haley Irwin won a pair of Olympic gold medals, and a silver, with the Canadian National Women’s team.
The Kings organization also boasts over 100 alumni who went on to compete in the NCAA ranks as well as many others who played U SPORTS university hockey, such as former Canadian University Player of the Year Joel Scherban.
There’s also a large contingent that went on to skate in either the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) or the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).
You can also add in a list of those who played for the organization that are now either in coaching, management or scouting, at all levels of the game.
This includes Vancouver Canucks senior director of player development and general manager of their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, Ryan Johnson and Ted Belisle, who is presently an amateur scout for the Los Angeles Kings.
NOTABLE KINGS ACHIEVEMENTS
2019-20: NAPHL U-18 regular season champions
2018-19: NAPHL U-18 Dixon Cup champions
2014-15: Ontario Bantam silver medalists
1999-2000: Ontario Bantam champions
1998-99: Ontario Bantam champions
1997-98: Ontario Bantam bronze medalists
1996-97: Air Canada Cup national midget champions
1996-97: Ontario Bantam champions
1996-97: Ontario Peewee silver medalists
1995-96: Air Canada Cup national midget silver medalists
1995-96: Ontario Bantam silver medalists
1994-95: Air Canada Cup national midget champions
1994-95: Ontario bantam champions
1991-92: Air Canada Cup national midget silver medalists