High Flyers

The Thunder Bay Flyers, coached by Dave Siciliano, claimed the 1989 and 1992 Centennial Cup as Canadian junior A hockey champions.

To say that this past week has been an emotional one for our country and the hockey world would be an understatement.

The tragedy that occurred involving the Humboldt Broncos reminds us all of just how much sport can draw a nation together and the role that it plays in creating bonds between teams and the communities which they represent.

In that spirit, I thought I would pay tribute to the Broncos program and all that they have done for their community by shining a light upon Thunder Bay’s junior hockey history by taking a look back at the Thunder Bay Flyers and their two Canadian Junior A Hockey championship seasons.

The formation of the Thunder Bay Flyers took place in 1984-85 following the disbanding of the old Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League the year earlier. From that initial season until their final year of operation in 2000, the team competed in the United States Hockey League (USHL).

From 1984-96 they also challenged for the Dudley Hewitt Cup for the right to represent Central Canada in the Centennial Cup National Junior A hockey championships, winning the Dudley-Hewitt Cup in 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1995.

Whenever the Flyers took to the ice at Fort William Gardens the stands would fill up for a night of great hockey. The fan support for the 1988-89 season was well deserved as the team, made up of players from throughout northwestern Ontario, provided some great hockey moments.

First up were the USHL regular season honours which were claimed against the St. Paul Vulcans in a two-game Anderson Cup series final that came down to the wire.

Before 3,300 fans at the Gardens, with 14 seconds left in the 3rd period and the score tied 6-6 all, Wayne Sawchuk netted a goal on a pass from Darryl Blazino to claim the victory.

Next up were the USHL playoffs. Knocking out the Omaha Lancers in three-straight games and the North Iowa Huskies 3-1, they again faced the Vulcans in the finals, going on to claim the Clark Cup by earning a 5-3 win in the fifth and deciding game.

The victory was that much more impressive considering that at the same time they were competing in that series they were also making their way along the trail to the Canadian finals. The extra games did not seem to pose a problem as the team swept the Central Canada playdowns with eight wins split between the Sudbury Cubs and Pembroke Lumber Kings.

Advancing to the nationals in Summerside, P.E.I., the team defeated the Vernon Lakers and Moncton Hawks in round robin action, dropping a hard fought 5-4 game to the hometown Summerside Western Capitals.

Meeting the Capitals again in the final, the Flyers did not let the hometown crowd pressure get to them with their 4-1 victory to become the first team from Northwestern Ontario to claim the Centennial Cup as Canadian National Jr. ‘A’ Champions.

The members of this championship team included: Darryl Blazino (Captain), Jason Bortolussi, Brian Caruso, Dwight DeGiacomo, Peter Grant, Greg Hankkio, Todd Henderson, Todd Howarth, Chris Hynnes, Greg Johnson, Brad Kennett, Darren Leishman, Barry McLeod, Ian Milne, Don Osborne, Craig Pages, Michael Power, Neal Purdon, Bruce Ramsay, Wayne Sawchuk, Gary Wenzel, Dave Siciliano (head coach), Sean Donohue (assistant coach), Ray Bohonis (manager), Dino Martin (trainer), Gaetan (Frenchie) Joubert trainer).

When the Thunder Bay Flyers took to the ice for the start of the 1991-92 season, head coach Siciliano felt that his fast and skillful roster had the potential to do well. His prediction turned out to be correct as they finished atop the USHL league standings with a 36-11-1 record, claiming the Anderson Cup for the fourth time in five years.

In playoff action, they swept the Rochester Mustangs in three straight games, advancing to the semi-finals against the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Although outshooting the Saints in every game, their one victory in four games eliminated them from the USHL playoffs.

Turning their attention to their next challenge, they prepared to play host to the four team Central Canada playdowns. Finishing second in round robin action with a 2-1 record, their 5-2 defeat of the Joliette Nationals in the semis set up an exciting final.

Facing the Kanata Valley Lasers, a bigger and more experienced club, they out hit and out hustled their opponents, claiming the divisional title with a 5-1 victory, much to the delight of the 3,500 fans that had packed the Gardens.

Making their way to Winnipeg for the five-team Centennial Cup tournament, their 2-2 record in round robin action and 8-1 victory over the Halifax Mooseheads earned them the chance to challenge for the national crown.

Facing off against the Winkler Flyers, a record setting, hard-hitting team, they retained the lead, and their composure, throughout the entire game, claiming the national title in a decisive 10-1 victory.

Returning home to a hero’s welcome, the members of this Canadian championship squad included Andrew Backen, Darren Balcombe, Clint Bates, Mike Bois, Chris Burns, Greg Campagna, Neil Cooper, Mike Figliomeni, Jason Garatti, Pat Hanley, Kevin Hoogsteen, Corey Johnson, Mike Koiranen, Brad Kukko, Darcy Mitani, Derek Nicolson, Mike O'Leary, David Olenik, Kyle Peterson, Michael Power, Adam Rodak, Barry Schutte, Ryan Sharpe, Mark Siciliano and Jason Wright.

Head coach Dave Siciliano led assistants Rick Adduono, Doug Colbon, Sean Donohue and Dino Martin.

Since 2001 the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) has provided our region with some great junior A hockey action which will continue this Saturday when the Dryden Ice Dogs and the Thunder Bay North Stars face off for the start of the best-of-seven Bill Salonen Cup playoff finals.

As they do, no doubt their thoughts and prayers will be with the entire Humboldt Broncos hockey community, as are mine.

Until next time keep that sports heritage pride alive.

Diane Imrie is the executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

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