Let's go back 30 years in the latter half of 1991. The Thunder Bay Flyers were a club looking for redemption as they began their campaign.
The season before they won the Anderson Cup as United States Hockey League regular season title holders, but it was the second-place Omaha Lancers who would take the Clark Cup playoff crown.
Not done however, the Flyers headed to Hawkesbury, Ont., for the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian junior A tournament, with a berth to the Centennial Cup nationals on the line.
There, the host Hawkesbury Hawks finished in top spot in the round robin, going 3-1, while Thunder Bay finished in a three-way tie for second.
In semifinal play, the Flyers blasted the Montreal Olympiques 10-0, while the Sudbury Cubs clipped the Hawks 5-3.
In the final, Thunder Bay came through once again, defeating Sudbury 5-1, with both teams already guaranteed a berth in the nationals as the Cubs were hosting that year’s Centennial Cup.
Things didn’t go quite well there. Despite a 10-4 drubbing of Sudbury, they suffered a trio of one-goal setbacks and failed to qualify for the playoff round.
“The (1991) team was an excellent one, but we didn’t do well at the Centennial Cup,” recalled Dave Siciliano, the Flyers’ head coach.
“It was built to win. We won the Anderson Cup in the USHL, but lost in the playoff finals.”
Kevin Hoogsteen, a rookie forward on that 1990-91 squad, echoed the sentiments of his coach.
“Our 1990-91 team was much more talented, but didn’t quite have the same feel as the following year’s team.”
Moving on to next season, the Flyers were once again highly competitive in USHL play.
They narrowly edged the Des Moines Buccaneers to claim a second-straight Anderson Cup as regular season champs.
Leading the way were the team’s big line of Mike Figliomeni, Darcy Mitani and Hoogsteen, who finished third, seventh and 10th in league scoring with 95, 70 and 67 points, respectively.
On the back end, captain Andrew Backen was named the USHL’s defenceman of the year and earned first team all-star laurels along with netminder Chris Burns.
They swept the Rochester Mustangs in the opening round of the postseason, but despite out shooting the Dubuque Fighting Saints in every game, they were bounced 3-1 in a best-of-five semifinal.]
Continuing on, Thunder Bay would host the Dudley-Hewitt Cup in the spring of 1992.
The disappointment of missing out on a USHL Clark Cup and some time off only fueled the Flyers as a rested side began their quest for a second Canadian title.
“I remember after we lost out in the USHL playoffs, we had five or six weeks off before we hosted the Dudley-Hewitt,” Hoogsteen said.
Siciliano, along with assistant coaches Rick Adduono and Doug Colbon, liked what they had and knew the potential was there to achieve success.
“We weren’t overly big, but had very good skill, speed and a big heart,” Siciliano said. “We played at a high tempo, moved the puck well and checked relentlessly.
“We got knocked around but just got up and worked harder. They were a good group to coach.”
As a rookie on the team, Barry Schutte looks back fondly and knew the club had what it took to do well.
“The ’91-92 Flyers were the definition of team. A very tight group of guys who had a team-first mentality,” said Schutte, now an associate head coach of the NCAA Division I Miami Redhawks.
“There were lots of layers to our overall team game. We were competitive, hard-nosed, tough but with plenty of skill as well. We refused to quit and had a hate to lose mentality along with great leadership from all the coaches investing in the players.”
Now all this would be put to the test as a ready Thunder Bay side would welcome the competition for the Dudley-Hewitt Cup at Fort William Gardens.
Next week, Part II of the 1991-92 Thunder Bay Flyers.
Tom Annelin’s column appears weekly in The Chronicle-Journal. Contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.