Michael Power has never forgotten the sensation of watching the Thunder Bay
Twins win multiple Allan Cup championships in the 1980s.
“I remember just sitting in awe and being inspired by the experience of
there being three, four or five thousand fans in the stands,” Power says.
“It was theatre, and I dreamed of being on the ice in that atmosphere.”
The former goaltender’s dream came true in 1988 when his Thunder Bay
Bearcats hosted the Air Canada Cup, Canada’s National Midget Championship.
Neal Purdon, a forward on that Bearcats team, said Thunder Bay hockey fans
created a special energy in Fort William Gardens.
“The Gardens is a magical place in Thunder Bay. I don’t think anyone can
describe it unless you’ve played in it. It has an aura about it.”
The fan support helped propel the Bearcats into a semifinal clash against
the Regina Pat Canadians – a club that defeated the Bearcats in three prior
Thunder Bay rose to the occasion in the elimination showdown; the Bearcats
had a 3-2 lead over the favoured Pat Canadians late in the third period
before Regina forced overtime and then prevailed in a second extra period.
While the Pat Canadians went on to claim the national title, a bronze medal
match against Oshawa Kiwanis the following morning required the Bearcats to
turn the page on their semifinal defeat quickly.
Thunder Bay gave its fans one more reason to cheer with a 5-4 win.
Thirty-one years later, Power and Purdon are working to re-create the magic
of the 1988 Air Canada Cup at the 2019 TELUS Cup, which will once again be
hosted at the historic Fort William Gardens.
Reminiscing about the 1988 experience at a Thunder Bay Kings board meeting
inspired a bid for 2019.
“We thought, ‘wow, wouldn’t this be great,’ especially if we could win the
bid during our 30th anniversary and breathe life into this AAA program,”
says Power, the current Kings president.
They won the bid, were officially announced as host in July 2017 and have
been hard at work ever since to prepare for the tournament’s opening day on
Power, the chair of the tournament hosting committee, has helped organize
every aspect of the event, while Purdon, a Kings board member, is
responsible for arranging meals for each of the competing teams.
Purdon says TELUS Cup attendees can look forward to a celebration of
Thunder Bay’s rich hockey history during the week – Eric Staal, Haley
Irwin, Patrick Sharp and Greg Johnson (another member of the 1988 Bearcats)
are some of the players getting recognized.
“We are celebrating all the various teams in Thunder Bay that have had
success through the years, and we are also celebrating the players who were
a part of those programs.”
Power says the participants in the 2019 TELUS Cup will leave with memories
that will last a lifetime whether they advance past the preliminary round
He hopes the players seize the moment.
“There’s nothing better than putting a 16- or 17-year-old on a national
stage, hopefully on national television, to display the ability to prepare,
the ability to manage pressure, the ability to execute in a stressful, but
at the same time exciting and exhilarating environment. These are life
skills, right? I think that anyone who has this opportunity needs to relish
it because it doesn’t come along very often.”