Rediscovery of Cherished Trophy Leads to New Doc on 1991–92 Thunder Hawks
By Michael Charlebois
The list of great hockey accomplishments in Thunder Bay is a long one. Our history is filled with everything from successful bantam tournaments to beer league legends to Stanley Cup parades. The Thunder Bay Thunder Hawks were only a blip on the radar, playing just two seasons in the now-defunct minor professional Colonial Hockey League under the Thunder Hawks name (the franchise would exist in the Lakehead as the Senators and Thunder Cats until 1999, before moving south of the border). Yet the makeup of the original team’s unique personalities, ruthless brand of hockey, and underdog story made for something that deserved to be told on screen.
“The way they played was a perfect match for Thunder Bay,” local filmmaker Ryan La Via says. No team exists in the imagination of the community quite like the Thunder Hawks team, who won the league’s inaugural Colonial Cup in 1992. Despite finishing the regular season with a losing record, they rallied to win the championship, which included a Game 7 overtime, clinching win at Fort William Gardens.
“Anybody who was at that Game 7 remembers it,” La Via says. “This film will bring back memories of the people who enjoyed the brand of hockey in the early 90s.” The stories of the aftermath of the title win were surrounded in mythology in the hockey community for years to come. Most notably, the league’s inaugural championship cup was so badly damaged in the celebration that the league told the Thunder Hawks to keep the trophy and pay for its replacement. For 18 years, the cup was believed to be missing, until it was discovered at the home of the late Andy Morrow, former president of the Thunder Hawks.
Local journalist and filmmaker Kris Ketonen filed the story for CBC Thunder Bay in February 2019, detailing the discovery and evoking the memories of the magical run to the championship. That’s when La Via contacted Ketonen to begin the process of putting that story onto the screen. In the film, La Via and Ketonen talk to former coaches, players, journalists, and fans about how the Thunder Hawks’ physical, blue-collar brand of hockey is a cherished memory to many.
“It certainly marks a time in our hockey history that was pretty unique, and I think a lot of people look back pretty fondly on it,” Ketonen says.
The documentary, which will be released on December 11, will be available for viewing through cupconfidential.com.