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Friday, March 11, 2011

World Beaters from Trail

It has been fifty years since the Trail Smoke Eaters made history by winning the World Hockey Championship, the last time a Canadian amateur team held the title.

By 1961 the Smoke Eaters were already a storied team. Playing in the provincial senior amateur league, they won six provincial championships between their formation in 1926 and 1933. In 1938 the team won the Allan Cup, the Canadian championship, and got to represent Canada at the 1939 world championships in Switzerland. The Smokies won all eight games, seven by shutout, and brought home the world title. One of the best teams in Canadian history, the 1938-39 version of the Smoke Eaters toured European rinks that year, losing only seven times in 71 games.

In 1961 it was back to the World Championships under coach Bobby Kromm, only this time the opportunity came about by accident. At the previous year's Allan Cup finals the Smokies actually finished second to a team from Chatham, Ontario. But the Chatham team couldn't make the trip to Moscow so Trail got the nod, much to the chagrin of most hockey "experts" in eastern Canada who thought the amateur squad from the BC interior didn't stand a chance. Despite the naysayers, Trail took the title, defeating Russia 5-1 in the final game on March 12, 1961.

A Canadian team would not win another international hockey title for 35 years.

The team's unusual name originated during the 1928-29 season. Trail was playing the Vancouver Monarchs in the coastal city when an angry fan threw his pipe onto the ice.
Seeing a Trail defenceman pick it up and smoke it while killing off a penalty, a local newspaper writer dubbed the team the "smoke eaters".

For the whole story of Trail hockey see here.