The rich history of the Kenora Thistles includes the biggest names in the game. The Stanley Cup, Art Ross and roots of the National Hockey League are all connected to Lake of the Woods. At the turn of the last century, Rat Portage was booming from a gold rush at Shoal Lake, and it attracted some of the best hockey talent in the country. They included Art Ross, who was among the immortal Thistles, who beat Montreal to win the Stanley Cup in 1907. To this day, Kenora remains the smallest community to ever win the trophy.
Hockey fans in Kenora with long memories will remember our great ambassadors of the game, who toured Japan as national champions. After winning the intermediate championship in 1953, players were invited to the world championships, but opted for a previously booked visit.
The intermediate program continued through until 1964. A junior hockey program started with the construction of the rec centre arena as a Centennial project in 1967-68. They became the Thistles in 1975. Around the same time, the AA Intermediate Thistles started, as the junior players wanted to continue playing. They continued into 1976.
Ryan Reynard helped restart the Senior AAA program in 2006, with the rec centre arena renamed the Thistle Rink in celebration of the centennial of the Stanley Cup win in 2007. It was also the name of the arena where teams played, before the rec centre was built.
Throughout the years, Kenora’s minor hockey association has also produced its share of all-stars. Going back through the generations, Kenora’s minor hockey system has produced some of the biggest names in the game: Mike Richards came out of the Evergreen Community Club and the midget AAA program, before winning a Memorial Cup with Kitchener in 2003, gold as team captain at the world juniors in 2005, a Calder Cup with the Phantoms of the AHL also in 2005, an Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010, and most recently a Stanley Cup in 2012.
Kenora hockey history also includes Curt Bowen, a first-round pick in the NHL, who played for his country in 1995 and 1997. Hall of Fame member Gary Bergman played on the outdoor rink at the Norman Community Club, before establishing himself as one of the world’s best defencemen at the ’72 Summit Series. Neil Strain came out of the Central Community Club to crack the line-up of the New York Rangers, and Hockey Haven Road on the east highway was built by the legendary Charlie Rayner.
Founded in 2006, the Kenora Thistles are one of only two teams in their area, the other being the Thunder Bay Twins. Both the Thistles and Twins play a series of exhibition games against Manitoba and Saskatchewan senior clubs to stay ready during the winter as they have no official league play until the playoffs. In the spring, the Thistles and Thunder Bay traditionally play off in a best-of-3 series to determine who will play against the Ontario Hockey Association champion for the Renwick Cup.
In the 2007 playoffs, the Thunder Bay Bombers defaulted due to lack of money despite winning the Allan Cup in 2005 and travelling Europe in 2006 to play against professional European clubs. Taking up an old, forgotten tradition of the Allan Cup champion. With no Northern Ontario competition, the Kenora earned the right to compete in the Renwick Cup and as well to host it. But, the Thistles did not book ice time in time and the Town of Kenora would not alter their schedule, so Hockey Canada stripped Kenora of hosting rights and awarded them to the eventual OHA champion, who ended up being the Whitby Dunlops of the Eastern Ontario Senior Hockey League. Kenora led the first game of the best-of-3 1-0 and 2-1. Whitby stormed back and led 3-2. Kenora tied the game in the third just to have the Dunlops score a late one to take game one 4-3. Kenora was outshot 50-29. In game two, the Dunlops taught the Thistles a lesson, crushing them 11-0 to take the series 2-games-to-none.
In 2008, the Thistles returned for more playoff action after an extensive exhibition schedule. Thunder Bay was back under the name Thunder Bay Hawks HC. The Hawks won both games of the Northern final: 7-4 and 5-1 to advance to the Renwick Cup.
The 2008-09 season was spent with a short exhibition schedule against other Senior teams in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. These games included a pair against Theoren Fleury‘s Steinbach North Stars, hosts of the 2009 Allan Cup. The playoffs began for the Thistles on March 13 against the Thunder Bay Twins. Two victories would take the Thistles directly to the 2009 Allan Cup round robin for the first time ever. Playing in Thunder Bay, the Thistles struck first with a 5-4 double-overtime victory. The next evening the Twins struck back, taking Game 2 by a 7-2 score. The Thistles dominated early and took a 3-2 lead into the third period. Late in the game the Twins tied the score at 3 and forced overtime. In the second overtime period, the Twins scored to win 4-3 and ended the Thistles third season of play.
From March 11 to 14, 2010, the Thistles hosted the HNO Gary Cook Cup senior hockey championship. The Thistles tied their first game against the Fort Frances Thunderhawks 3-3, a result that would later be overturned and awarded to the Thistles. Their second game was a 5-1 drubbing of their rival Thunder Bay K&A Twins. Due to the same protest that changed the result of their game against the Thunderhawks, the Thistles met the Twins again in the tournament final. The Thistles were victorious, taking the Twins 3-1. The will move on to the Renwick Cup in April against the winners of Major League Hockey.
The Thistles and the City of Kenora hosted the 2011 Allan Cup on behalf of Hockey Northwestern Ontario. They lost the Quarter-final to the Fort Frances Thunderhawks. The Thunderhawks were awarded the branch championship Gary Cook Cup for the victory. In June 2011, the team officially folded, but were resurrected by a new owner before the month was out.
In 2012 the Thistles won the Renwick Cup in Dundas, defeating the Dundas Real McCoys 2 games to 0 and advanced to the Allan Cup in Lloydminster, AB. The Thistles went 3 and 0, losing in the quarter final to Rosetown SK.
In 2013 the Thistles won the Renwick cup for a second straight year defeated the Brantford Blast 2 games to 0 in Kenora and advanced to the Allan Cup in Red Deer AB, losing in the semi-final 3 – 2 to the eventual Allan Cup Champions, Bentley Generals.
|2009-10||10||6||3||–||1||47||29||13||1st HNO||Won Gary Cook Cup|
|2010-11||5||4||1||–||0||25||18||8||1st HNO||Lost AC Quarter-final|
|2012-13||14||10||4||–||–||84||40||Lost AC Semi Final|
|2011||Kenora, Ontario||3||1||2||0||0||11||9||2nd Pool Two||Lost Quarter-final|
|2012||Lloydminster, Saskatchewan||3||0||3||0||0||9||17||3rd Pool Two||Lost Quarter-final|
|2013||Red Deer, Alberta||4||1||3||0||0||12||18||3rd Pool Two||Lost Semi-final|
Eddie Giroux (goal), A.H. (Art) Ross, Si Griffis, Tom Hooper, W.M. (Billy) McGimsie, Roxy Beaudro, Tom Phillips (captain), J.A. Link trainer & coach)
(see attached photo)
Bill Devins, Neil Strain, Sugar Robertson (captain), Jim Johnson, Frank Cheop, Ray Simoneau, Dick Dixon, Dennis Lamberts, Walter Leeson, John Beda, Jim Szabo, Spike Robertson, Don Blom, Bernie Milliard, Ray Westlund, Sam Robertson, Lorne Johnson, Murray Robertson, Wilf Leydier, Frank Richards, Art Schwartz, Jim Dunn, Bill Bodger, O. Wood, Carl Lozenski, Steve Derry, Carl Johnson, Joe Fregeau, Gord MacKenzie, Dick Strain, Don McLeod, Bill Johnson, Eric Newman, Jack Waterson.
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You have heard of a fight won long ago,
When the Thistles fought to win;
These fighting days are back again
With the Robertsons, kith and kin!
We’re proud of the way you played, boys,
Westlund, Simoneau and Creed!
Milliard, Johnston and Elliott
Bobbed up in the time of need.
The Union Jack and the Colors, boys
Are the things for which we fight;
But the Colors that hold our hearts, boys,
Are those of the Red and White.
Jim Johnston, the gallant goalie,
Richards, Leydier and Blom,
Fast as the fastest scorers,
Speeded to make things hum!
We welcome you tonight, boys,
So proud we scarce can speak!
but the welcome is all the greater
At the end of a glorious week.