They were only in existence for four years as a small town junior A franchise. But back during the 2006-2007 season, the upstart Schreiber Diesels won the Superior International Jr. Hockey League championship in stunning fashion.
The ’06-07 campaign was just the second as members of the SIJHL for Schreiber. And what an indelible season it would be for hometown coach Bobby Spadoni and the Diesels.
Schreiber would finish in second place during the regular season with 72 points from a respectable record of 33-11-6, which was well back of the league leading — and defending champion — Fort William North Stars, who put up 85 points from a record of 41-6-3.
Come playoff time, second seed Schreiber faced off against the third place Thunder Bay Bearcats, who had finished just behind the Diesels in the regular season standings with 62 points from a record of 29-17-4. The best of seven semi-final went to six games before Schreiber scored a 3-2 road victory over Thunder Bay to advance to the finals against the powerhouse crew from Fort William.
The league finals between the small town Diesels and the big market North Stars would prove to be one for the ages.
Down three games to two and facing elimination, the Diesels returned home to a packed Schreiber Arena and beat the North Stars 4-1 to force a seventh and deciding match at venerable Fort William Gardens.
On the road in Game 7 in front of a big crowd at the Gardens — but with many in the region backing up the little guys from Schreiber — the Diesels and North Stars battled through two scoreless periods that set the stage for a frantic final stanza.
Early in the third period, Schreiber went ahead 1-0 on a penalty shot goal by local rookie sensation Dustin Fummerton. The Diesels would then add three more goals to stun the North Stars and claim the SIJHL championship in Cinderella fashion.
Aforementioned Diesels coach Bobby Spadoni recalled the euphoric feeling.
“The entire district was cheering,” Spadoni told Hockey News North. “I will never forget holding the trophy on the ice of the most storied rink in our area and being so proud of our team and all of our supporters.”
As SIJHL champions, Schreiber advanced to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada tournament in Iroquois Falls. Besides the Diesels, the other three teams were the host Abitibi Eskimos, the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League champion Soo Indians and the best team money could buy, the Ontario Jr. Hockey League champion Aurora Tigers.
I was in Iroquois Falls for the 2007 event, covering it for the Sault This Week along with my buddy Brian Holmberg, who was on freelance assignment as a photographer for the newspaper.
At any rate, the Diesels began with a win over the host Eskimos before losing to Aurora.
Then came a round-robin ending match against the Indians which turned out to be a spectacular goal-tending display between Brennan Poderzay of the Soo and Chris Bruno of Schreiber. The Diesels lost 2-1 to the Indians — they were coached by Kevin Cain, who later won several more NOJHL championships as general manager of the Soo Thunderbirds — but advanced to the semi-final game against host Abitibi based on a goals for/goals against tie breaking formula which gave the advantage to Schreiber.
Spadoni recalled the ups and downs of the upcoming semi-final game between Schreiber and Abitibi.
“We took a 3-0 lead and they pulled their starting goalie Miles Williams and put in Matt Kernic, who had been with us and was a great kid. It looked like a story book ending for the home town team as the Eskimos came back and were up 5-4 with less than a minute to go. The Igloo (Jus Jordan Arena) was rocking,” Spadoni recalled.
But the Diesels weren’t done.
“Something I couldn’t believe happened,” Spadoni remembered. “There was Chris Bryson our captain and leading scorer all alone in front and he beat Kernick glove side high to square it up at 5-5.”
The game would not be decided until the second overtime — and the clock clicking towards midnight — when Schreiber forward Toby Brune rifled a slap shot into the Abitibi net to send the Diesels into the Dudley-Hewitt Cup title tilt against the OJHL champions from Aurora.
Aurora would then beat a tired Schreiber crew in the championship game to win the Dudley-Hewitt championship.
“All in all I was pretty proud of the smallest town in Canada to have a Junior A team and accomplish what we did that season,” Spadoni told Hockey News North. “All these years later I still think of that Schreiber Diesels team of ours.”
With a population of just over 1,000 residents, Schreiber — which is about two hours east of Thunder Bay and five and a half hours west of Sault Ste. Marie along the Trans Canada Highway — was able to ice a Diesels team that ’06-07 season which featured four local forwards in Chris Bryson, Dustin Fummerton, Tyler Trichilo and Joel Commisso.
Bryson, with 56 goals, 73 assists, 129 points, 168 penalty minutes, led the Diesels in scoring that memorable season and fellow local lad Fummerton was next with 26 goals, 69 assists, 95 points and 210 penalty minutes.
The Diesels would last two more seasons in the SIJHL before the franchise ceased operations. But there is talk that Schreiber could once again be home to an SIJHL team in the near future, a notion that Spadoni has not dismissed.