The Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL)
is a Junior 'A' hockey league operating in the Canadian province of Ontario plus the U.S. states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The SIJHL is one of ten Junior 'A' Hockey Leagues in Canada and is a member of the Canadian Junior Hockey League and Hockey Canada.
The winner of the SIJHL playoffs competes for the Dudley Hewitt Cup with the winners of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. The winner of the Dudley Hewitt Cup then moves on to compete for the Royal Bank Cup.
Although founded in 2001, the SIJHL is another chapter in a long history of Thunder Bay Junior "A" Hockey. The Fort William War Veterans were the first representatives of the Thunder Bay region, winning the 1922 Memorial Cup as Canadian National Junior "A" Champions. Although there is not abundant information on the subject, the Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League may date back to the War Veterans, and may have existed on-and-off until 1984. From 1984 until 2000, the region (Hockey Northwestern Ontario) was represented by a single team at the Junior "A" level—the Thunder Bay Flyers. The Flyers played their regular season games in the United States Hockey League, America's Tier I of Junior Hockey, and returned to Canada for the playoffs. The Flyers won the Dudley Hewitt Cup as Central Canadian Junior Champions in 1989, 1991, 1992, and 1995. The Flyers were also National Champions in 1989 and 1992, winning the Centennial Cup. The Flyers folded after the 1999-2000 USHL Season.
The Northwestern Ontario region has also been well represented in the past in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. From 1968 until 1982, the city of Kenora, Ontario was represented by the Kenora Muskies/Thistles and in the mid-1980s, Thunder Bay had an entry with the Thunder Bay Hornets.
The folding of the Thunder Bay Flyers opened the way for a rebirth of Junior "A" hockey in the Thunder Bay region. The league came back to life under the "Superior International" label in 2001 with 5 teams, including the Thunder Bay Wolves (now the Fort William North Stars), the First Nation Featherman Hawks (folded as the Thunder Bay Bearcats in 2009), the Fort Frances Borderland Thunder (folded in 2005), Dryden Ice Dogs, and the Thunder Bay Bulldogs (which were folded into the Thunder Bay Bearcats franchise in 2008).
2006 Dudley Hewitt CupEdit
There are numerous potential markets in Northern Ontario like Kenora, Red Lake, Ignace, Atikokan, Geraldton, and Wawa yet to be explored by the SIJHL. League chairman Ron Whitehead has also spoken about the potential for expansion into the United States, with markets such as nearby Duluth and other towns throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin offering notable potential for growth in the SIJHL. A few of these towns previously had teams.
In February of 2019, the league's commissioner, Bryan Graham, stated he would be interested in expanding the league to ten teams within a few years. Kenora was indicated as being a leading candidate but availability of ice would be an issue as there is only one ice sheet in town. Among the other possibilites in Ontario include returning to Sioux Lookout, Schreiber,and Marathon. Adding another team in Thunder Bay also would be a possibility. American expansion would also be of interest but getting approval from USA Hockey which can be hindered by other leagues in the United States saying they may be interested in expanding to the area as well.
Expansion East and RetractionEdit
The presence of the SIJHL in Northwestern Ontario marks the first time since the 1970s that the region has effectively supported a junior hockey league. In the mid-2000s, the SIJHL expanded East of Thunder Bay with the Schreiber Diesels and Marathon Renegades. A Wawa, Ontario franchise was also in the works, but never came to fruition.
On December 17, 2007, it was announced that the Schreiber Diesels folded mid-season, without warning. The organization claimed disappointment in the season's fan support, but also said it was not only reason for the cessation of play. On December 21, the team was bought by a group of local fans in an effort to keep the Diesels alive. But with good came the ugly. The Marathon Renegades at one point were as high as third place in the SIJHL this season, but after 37 games played were forced to resign from the rest of the 2007-08 campaign. Their problems resulted from weeks of playing with just over two lines of players. Injuries and early defections were blamed for this. Al Cresswell, team president, claimed that the shortage of players had become a health risk. The Renegades have not suspended operations, but have pulled out of the season.
Although the 2008-09 season did not see a return to Marathon, the SIJHL did add the Sioux Lookout Flyers. In the 2008 off-season, the Thunder Bay Bulldogs elected to retract to embolden the Thunder Bay Bearcats. Despite a strong year from the Bearcats and the Schreiber Diesels, both teams elected to cease operation in the summer of 2009. The Fort Frances Jr. Sabres claimed that they would be back for 2009-10, but their owners sold the rights to their players to teams across Canada. In a last ditch effort, the town of Fort Frances bought the team and renamed them the Fort Frances Lakers, but were forced to find all new players due to the actions of the previous ownership. The Thunder Bay Wolverines elected to apply for promotion to the SIJHL for 2009-10 fresh off of their silver medal performance at the Keystone Cup Canadian Jr. B Championships. Back up to five teams, the SIJHL also made a 20-game interleague setup with the Minnesota Junior Hockey League's Wisconsin Mustangs to diversify the league's competition. The 2010-11 season will be the tenth season of the SIJHL. Marking its tenth season, the SIJHL has been applied to for expansion by two American teams: Duluth and Spooner. Pending approval from governing bodies, the SIJHL will truly be an International league for the first time in its history and at its largest since 2008, rebounding from just 5 teams in 2009-10.
For 2013 the league expanded in to Ear Falls with the addition of the English River Miners. The league's franchise rights for the Minnesota Wilderness transferred to a new team in Spooner, Wisconsin after the Minnesota Wilderness organization transferred from the SIJHL to the North American Hockey League. The Duluth Clydesdales were suspend from the league for "multiple cancelled games".
The Wisconsin Wilderness were forced to fold when then arena closed after the 2013-14 season.
In the spring of 2016 the league annouced the addition of an expansion team to be based out of Thief River Falls, Minnesota based out of the Ralph Engelstad Arena. The team would announce on June 10, 2016 that the team would be known as the Thief River Falls Norskies.
On February 8, 2019 the league had announced they were adding a team to the league for the 2019-20 season. The team will be the Spooner, Wisconsin based Wisconsin Lumberjacks. The move is pending approval of Hockey Canada and the Canadian Junior Hockey League. USA Hockey's junior council had already approved the team joining the league.
On June 12, 2019 it was announced the Minnesota Iron Rangers would take a one year leave of absence for the 2019-20 season with the intention of relocating somewhere within the Iron Range of Minnesota. Other sources indicate that the team may have in fact folded.