Superior International Junior Hockey League
|Current season or competition:
2012–13 SIJHL season
|No. of teams||5|
|Associated Title(s)||Royal Bank Cup (National Championship)
Dudley Hewitt Cup (Central Championship)
|Recent Champions||Minnesota Wilderness (2013)|
|Headquarters||Thunder Bay, Ontario|
The Superior International Junior Hockey League is a Junior A ice hockey league under the supervision 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 existed until 1980. From 1980 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 Nipigon Featherman Hawks (now the Thunder Bay Bearcats), the Fort Frances Borderland Thunder, Dryden Ice Dogs, and the Thunder Bay Bulldogs.
2006 Dudley Hewitt Cup 
In 2006, the Fort William North Stars won the Dudley Hewitt Cup with a 7-6 overtime win over the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League's Sudbury Jr. Wolves to earn the team and the league its first regional title and its first shot at the national title at the 2006 Royal Bank Cup. The North Stars would eventually be eliminated in the Royal Bank Cup semi-final in Brampton, Ontario with a 3-2 overtime loss to the British Columbia Hockey League's Kyle Turris and the Burnaby Express.
Expansion East and Retraction 
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.
10th Season and American Expansion 
In June, the Thunder Bay Wolverines unceremoniously pulled out of the SIJHL. A few days later USA Hockey rejected the transfer bid by the Wisconsin Mustangs to join the SIJHL and the expansion bid of the potential of Duluth, Minnesota despite approval by Hockey Canada and the SIJHL. The league sat at four teams. The two teams appealed the decision and won their appeal, officially giving the league six teams and making the league truly an international league.
The Fort William North Stars were dominant early in 2010-11, but due to a financial hiccup that lead to an ownership and name change (Thunder Bay North Stars), the Wisconsin Wilderness jumped into the lead mid-season and never looked back. The Wilderness won their first season and playoff title in their first season of play in the league.
In the Summer of 2011, the SIJHL elected to expand with the Iron Range Ironheads with the permission of USA Hockey and Hockey Minnesota. All that awaited was an "okay" from the USA Hockey Council -- which like 2009-10 was denied. The decision was appealed and on July 12, 2011 expansion was allowed by USA Hockey as well as the continuation of the Duluth and Spooner franchises. Wisonsin would win their second straight league title, coming from behind in the final to beat the Fort Frances Lakers in seven games.
The 2012-13 season was a season of decline for the league's American expansion. In the off-season, USA Hockey allowed the league to transfer Iron Range to new ownership and rename it the Minnesota Iron Rangers. Wisconsin was sold and relocated into the same market as Duluth, much to Duluth's displeasure, and renamed the Minnesota Wilderness. Three games into the season, the Sioux Lookout Flyers pulled the plug on their season and eventually their franchise when a scandal over the carding of players by their new GM/Coach left them without enough players to continue. In early 2013, the league, after multiple cancelled games, stripped the Duluth Clydesdales of their franchise. Then, after clinching their third regular season and playoff crowns, the Wilderness won the league's second ever Dudley Hewitt Cup as Central Canadian champions. The Wilderness became the first American team to win the Dudley Hewitt Cup and the first to ever gain berth into the Royal Bank Cup Canadian Junior A Championship. After winning the Central Canadian Championship, it was announced that the Wilderness would leave the SIJHL at the end of the Royal Bank Cup to join the North American Hockey League. The Wilderness finished fourth in the National Championship round robin, earning a berth into the semi-final. Despite leading 4-2 in the third, the Wilderness allowed penalties to get in the way and surrendered their lead with seconds to go in the third. The Alberta Junior Hockey League's Brooks Bandits would score in overtime to win the game 5-4 and leave the Wilderness out of the finals. With the Wilderness and Clydesdales gone, the Minnesota Iron Rangers still hold on to membership with the league.
Potential Markets 
There are numerous potential markets in Northern Ontario like Kenora, 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 Warroad and other towns throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin offering notable potential for growth in the SIJHL.
With the lack of large size centres outside of Thunder Bay, the league must rely on small towns and strong fan bases to fuel membership. For the second time in recent memory, the Thunder Bay market only has one franchise. Meanwhile, Schreiber, Marathon, and Sioux Lookout remain potential markets despite having lost teams in the past.
2013 and onward 
The teams 
Bill Salonen Cup Champions 
The winners of the SIJHL Playoffs are awarded the Bill Salonen Cup. Although the Jack Adams Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the branch Junior A champion, Hockey Northwestern Ontario will not bring it out unless there are two leagues vying for the Branch Championship.
Dudley Hewitt Cup Central Canada Championships 
Former Member Teams 
Former Interleague Teams 
Team Records 
- Best Winning Record:
- 2005-06 Fort William North Stars - 50-2-0-0
- Most Goals For in One Season:
- 2005-06 Fort William North Stars - 353 Goals For
- Least Goals Against in One Season:
- 2004-05 Fort William North Stars - 66 Goals Against
- Worst Winning Record:
- 2008-09 Sioux Lookout Flyers - 2-46-0-2
- Least Goals For in One Season:
- 2004-05 Thunder Bay Bulldogs - 72 Goals For
- Most Goals Against in One Season:
- 2006-07 Marathon Renegades - 404 Goals Against
Timeline of Teams in the SIJHL 
- 2001 - SIJHL is founded with five teams: Fort Frances Borderland Thunder, Featherman Hawks, Thunder Bay Wolves, Dryden Ice Dogs, and Thunder Bay Bulldogs; as well as two interleague teams: Northwest Wisconsin Knights and Iron Range Yellow Jackets
- 2002 - Thunder Bay Wolves become Fort William Wolves
- 2002 - Featherman Hawks become Nipigon Golden Hawks
- 2002 - Iron Range Yellow Jackets break off interlock
- 2003 - Nipigon Golden Hawks move to Thunder Bay and become K&A Golden Hawks
- 2003 - Fort William Wolves become Fort William North Stars
- 2003 - Northwest Wisconsin Knights break off interlock
- 2005 - Schreiber Diesels join league
- 2005 - Fort Frances Borderland Thunder leaves league
- 2005 - MSU-Bottineau Lumberjacks enter into interlocking schedules
- 2006 - Marathon Renegades join league
- 2006 - Thunder Bay Golden Hawks become Thunder Bay Bearcats
- 2006 - MSU-Bottineau Lumberjacks break off interlock
- 2007 - Fort Frances Jr. Sabres join league
- 2007 - Marathon Renegades withdraw from league mid-season (January)
- 2008 - Sioux Lookout Flyers join league
- 2008 - Thunder Bay Bulldogs merge into Thunder Bay Bearcats
- 2009 - Schreiber Diesels leave league
- 2009 - Thunder Bay Bearcats leave league
- 2009 - Fort Frances Jr. Sabres are renamed Fort Frances Lakers
- 2009 - Thunder Bay Wolverines join league from Thunder Bay Junior B Hockey League
- 2009 - Wisconsin Mustangs enter into interlocking schedule
- 2010 - Thunder Bay Wolverines leave league
- 2010 - Wisconsin Wilderness (formerly Mustangs) join league from Minnesota Junior Hockey League
- 2010 - Duluth Clydesdales join league
- 2011 - Iron Range Ironheads join league
- 2012 - Iron Range Ironheads change name to Minnesota Iron Rangers
- 2012 - Wisconsin Wilderness relocate and become Minnesota Wilderness
- 2012 - Sioux Lookout Flyers cease operations
- 2013 - League revokes Duluth Clydesdales franchise
- 2013 - Minnesota Wilderness leave league for North American Hockey League
- 2013 - Ear Falls Eagles join league
See also 
- Hockey Northwestern Ontario
- Canadian Junior A Hockey League
- Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League
- Thunder Bay Flyers
- Thunder Bay Bombers
- Royal Bank Cup
- Dudley Hewitt Cup
- Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, March 2002.
- Hockey Northwestern Ontario Handbook. http://www.hockeyhno.com/
- Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, March 2002.