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USHL Back To Thunder Bay Ontario? – David Wagner

Alright, so I am going to try my hand at writing a serious report and leave the Angel of Death attitude at the door today.

About two weeks ago I was given a little info on a rumor circulating in Thunder Bay Ontario.  So I have been doing a little snooping and making a few calls.

I thought it was unusual that there was a rumor about the USHL returning to Thunder Bay until I actually did a little research.

The Thunder Bay Flyers played in the USHL from 1984 to 2000.  The Flyers are credited with four Anderson Cup regular-season titles in five years (1988, 1989, 1991, 1992) and two straight Clark Cup playoff championships in 1988 and 1989.  That is nothing short of a great success.

Although during the regular season the Flyers played in the USHL, they went back to Canada for the playoffs to compete against the OPJHL and the NOJHL for the right to represent Ontario at the Centennial Cup, which is now known as the Royal Bank Cup. The Flyers won the Dudley Hewitt Cup in 1989, 1991, 1992, and 1995 which qualified them to compete for the National title.  The Flyers won 2 National titles. They won the 1989 and 1992 Centennial Cups.

Doing a little more snooping, I was told by some USHL experts that the USHL would never expand by only one team.  They said that another team was either in the works of that one of the current teams would be dropping out.  Some of those same people said, they had not heard of any teams dropping out at the end of this season.

I also learned that the Thunder Bay USHL franchise is dormant, and can be re-activated.  The franchise was sold to a group that had been trying to build a new arena in Indiana.  While it looked like the arena was going to be built, sources are saying that there was an issue with financing the arena through bond sales that has left the project up in the air.

In November of 2012, Thunder Bay approved a location for a new event center, and began searching for funding.  Sources in Thunder Bay are now saying the project is moving forward, while a ground breaking may not take place until 2017.  This does not mean the USHL can not return to the Thunder Bay’s Fort William Gardens.

Thunder Bay does currently have an SIJHL Junior A team called the North Stars playing in the fort William Gardens.  With seating for 3,600 it would be a struggle to obtain USHL numbers, but on a temporary basis it could be made to work.

When you look at the USHL announcing a return to Madison Wisconsin, a return to Thunder Bay does not seem out of the question.  Interestingly enough, Madison was also and expansion team in 1984, the same year that Thunder Bay entered the USHL.  Coincidence?

Now factor in that a few people within the SIJHL are saying Thunder Bay is rumored to be going back to the USHL and you have the makings of some serious smoke, and where there is smoke……

Now all of this is speculation of course, but it would make sense on some fronts.  The City of Thunder Bay could easy gain the rest of the financing needed for the new event center if this were to take place.  The USHL would maintain balanced scheduling, and an even amount of teams in their divisions.  With import player balances evening out between USA Hockey and Hockey Canada over the next few years it would create more opportunity for both American and Canadian players across the border.  With no expansion on the horizon for Major Junior hockey, this would provide a similar level of play.

While some will point out that the deadline for expansion passed last friday, this would not be considered expansion, but would be considered re-activation of a dormant franchise.  That same re-activation would not include a relocation of the franchise and would likely be approved by USA Hockey and Hockey Canada rather quickly.

Will it happen, or is it all just rumor and speculation?  I would have to guess that we will all find out in the near future.  But you have to believe the USHL isn’t going into next season with an odd number of teams.

David Wagner

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