National Midget Hockey Championship Returns to Thunder Bay
By Kris Ketonen
The Thunder Bay major midget Kings midget hockey team is heading into some uncharted territory this month—a national championship.
While the Kings players are certainly no strangers to high-pressure, highly competitive hockey, when they take the ice to compete for the TELUS Cup, it’ll be the first national event the team has suited up for, head coach Darrin Nicholas says. “That’s one of the things I like the most about midget hockey. When you’re playing at the peewee level and the bantam level, they have provincial championships… but there’s nothing that brings it to a national level.”
And it’s not just about who the Kings face on the ice. The stands will be full of fans (and scouts), while the championship game will air on TSN. “Probably, the kids still don’t know exactly what they’re in for,” Nicholas says. “We’re doing our best as a coaching staff to really impress upon them the magnitude of the opportunity that they have in front of them, but not so much as trying to paralyze them with nervousness.”
The Kings, who are hosting this year’s TELUS Cup, don’t know their opponents yet; as of this writing, the rest of the competition was still being decided. What is known is they’ll be facing off against teams from across Canada. But whoever those teams end up being, one thing is certain: the Kings won’t have any experience playing against them. The Kings spend their season competing in the United States as part of the North American Prospects Hockey League—they won the league’s under-18 championship in February—and also play against Junior B and AAA teams in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.
But Nicholas says the team will be doing its homework in the lead up to the TELUS Cup. “Really, we just kind of worry about ourselves,” he says. “We know it’s going to be high-level hockey teams that are coming in here. We think we’re a high-level team, and we’ll be doing some advanced scouting as best we can.”
Meanwhile, work is well underway to make sure Thunder Bay is ready as host of the tournament. But the job isn’t a small one. Work at the Gardens includes everything from changing the logos on and around the ice surface to building a new dressing room in the curling club area, says Rob Monty, one of the local organizers.
“It’s a good thing we have a good committee,” Monty says. “A lot of the board members have played in the TELUS Cup… this is like a $450,000 budget to put this on.”
The TELUS Cup runs April 22–28 at the Fort William Gardens. For more information, visit hockeycanada.ca.