TELUS Cup West Regional team preview: Thunder Bay Kings


THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The TELUS Cup West Regional, presented by Windsor Plywood, gets underway Thursday and runs through Sunday at Fort William First Nation Arena as four competing clubs will vie for the AAA midget championship and a berth at the TELUS Cup nationals later this month in Sudbury, Ont.

As hosts of the four-team event, the Thunder Bay major midget Kings are the Hockey Northwestern Ontario AAA District champions after sweeping the Kenora Thistles in three games last month to claim the branch title.

Joining the Kings at the regional will be the Thistles, who qualified as the second HNO rep, along with the Winnipeg Wild and Notre Dame Hounds, the respective AAA midget champions from Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

THE SEASON: Thunder Bay had an active 2017-18 campaign competing in both the North American Prospects Hockey League in the U.S. as well as the locally in the Lakehead Junior Hockey League.

The club finished 13th out of 19 teams in the highly competitive NAPHL under-18 conference with a 7-10-0-1 record.

They then went 2-2 in the NAPHL Silver Division playoff tournament.

In LJHL action the major midgets posted a 12-3-1 record against their Jr. B opponents.

Thunder Bay also had an 11-10-1 mark against other AAA midget teams during the season.

In the HNO districts, the Kings swept the Thistles winning 7-3 and 2-1 on home ice and 3-2 in overtime in Kenora to secure the series triumph.

POINT PRODUCERS: Forward Kyle Swerhun led the Kings offensively with 12 points in just 15 NAPHL outings with five goals and seven assists to his credit.

Three of his tallies were game-winners.

Michael Vecchio was next with nine points while the trio of Robert Tyska, Jacob Anttonen and defenceman Zach Fortin were right behind him with eight apiece.

Tyska topped the club in the playoff tourney with a goal and three helpers followed by Christian Veneruzzo, who notched a trio of markers.

In LJHL play Anttonen once again paced his team with 25 points as he scored 10 times and helped set-up 15 more.

He was followed by Jonathan Kilby and Vecchio as they both registered 21 points.

Tyska supplied 20 while Fortin had 19 and fellow D-man Anthony Binairis chipped in with 18 points, including a team-high 16 assists.

Vecchio led the Kings offensively in the districts with five points to his credit, including the game-winner in overtime in the final contest.

Tyska was next with four points followed by Swerhun and Anttonen with three each.

GOALKEEPERS: Jordan Smith and Seth McKay split the duties in goal for Thunder Bay in the NAPHL with both netminders posting one shutout.

McKay was 2-0 in the playoff round and featured a 1.92 goals-against average.

Smith meanwhile lacked goal support in his two postseason starts while sporting a solid 1.54 average and a .921 save mark.

He did lead all LJHL netminders in both goals-against average and save percentage at 1.71 and .940 to go with a 6-1 record.

McKay was 6-2-1 vs. LJHL squads and had a 2.44 GAA.

He was credited with all three victories over Kenora in the districts.

KINGS’ NOTES: The Kings are coached by Darrin Nicholas, Jesse Pyatt and Chris Bruno. … The Kings have won the West Regional four times in their history claiming the title in 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1997. … The organization also went on to medal all four times they competed at the then Air Canada Cup (now TELUS Cup) Canadian National Midget Championship. … The Kings won it all in 1995 and 1997 and earned silver medals in 1992 and 1996. … Thunder Bay fell is last year’s West Regional final to the Regina Pat Canadians in Manitoba. … The Kings are one of nine organizations to have won multiple national midget crowns. … Notable major midget Kings NHL alumni include Trevor Letowski (Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Columbus Blue Jackets & Carolina Hurricanes; Jeff Heerema (Carolina Hurricanes/St. Louis Blues), Jason Jaspers (Phoenix Coyotes) and Aaron MacKenzie (Colorado Avalanche). … Letowski was also a member of Team Canada side that captured the gold medal at the 1997 World Junior Hockey Championship. He is just the second person in Canadian history to win a gold medal as both a player and a coach helping on the staff of the nation’s latest WJHC title in January. The current head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires, Letowski was the Spitfires’ associate coach that won the 2017 Memorial Cup. … Kings’ assistant coach Chris Bruno played two seasons for the major midgets from 2002-04. … Bruno was also a goaltender on the roster of the 2005 RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A champion Weyburn Red Wings. … Head coach Darrin Nicholas’ son Nolan Nicolas is a Kings alumnus and is a sophomore defenceman at the University of Alaska-Anchorage where he competes on NCAA scholarship with the Seawolves. He was named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association All-Academic Team for 2017-18. … Thunder Bay last hosted the West Regional back in 2003. … The Kings, HNO, Thunder Bay Minor Hockey Association and the City of Thunder Bay will host the 2019 TELUS Cup next April at the Fort William Gardens.

Awaiting the 2018 West Regional winner will be a berth to the TELUS Cup Canadian National Midget event, April 23-29, in Sudbury, Ont.