Despite a loss in the 1961 Allan Cup finals, the Trail Smoke Eaters found themselves at the world championships in Geneva, Switzerland on a technicality. The Smoke Eaters went on to win the title and were inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1976.
After several decades there remains a certain reverence associated with the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters. An amateur team with a roster stacked with several British Columbians, while representing Canada the Smoke Eaters defeated the very best teams international hockey had to offer in tough, aggressive fashion.
It began in the spring of 1960 when the Smoke Eaters, who played in the high-calibre Western International Hockey League (Trail, Nelson, Rossland and East Kootenay), won their league championship. They then defeated Kelowna to capture the the BC senior amateur championship. Harold Jones was the WIHL’s top scorer, while Smoke Eater Seth Martin had the best goalkeeping record. From there, Trail defeated the top prairie teams to earn the right to represent the West in the Allan Cup final against the eastern champion Chatham Maroons.
As it happened, Chatham defeated Trail in five games to win the Allan Cup, due in large part to the fine goalkeeping of Cesare Maniago, ironically a Trail native. These were the days when the Allan Cup winner represented Canada at the following year’s world hockey championship.
However, Chatham declined this opportunity allowing Trail to accept the challenge, and suddenly the Western Canadian champions were Canada’s representatives at the 1961 world championships to be held in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Smoke Eaters had a good reputation as an amateur team and had terrific community support but weren’t expected to do well against the likes of the improving Swedes, Soviets, and Czechs, who were considered by many to be professional. In fact, the CAHA didn’t think the Smoke Eaters had what it took. However, led by fiery, uncompromising playing-coach Bobby Kromm, defenseman Harry Smith, high- scoring ex-pro Jackie McLeod, and goalie Seth Martin, the Smoke Eaters defeated Sweden 6-1, tied Czechoslovakia, then scored a decisive 5-1 win over the favourite Soviets, clinching for Trail the gold medal. Trail finished with a 6-0-1 overall record in the tournament. The Smoke Eaters proved to be the last amateur team from Canada to win the world championship.
The evening of March 12th, 1961 saw the 20,000 inhabitants of Trail go ballistic as did the hockey fans of BC. It would not be until 1994 that Canada would again win the world title and that would be accomplished with a team made up of the best players of the NHL. Trail had won on a total budget of $44,000. The players reward? The honour, the glory, and $200 spending money apiece.
A further legacy developed in that some of the players’ offspring would play professional hockey including Adolf ‘Addy’ Tambellini’s son, Steve, and grandson Jeff, who both suited up for the Vancouver Canucks. Also making the NHL were Bobby Kromm’s son Richard, Ed Cristofoli’s son Ed, and Norm Lenardon’s son Tim. 1961 team members Seth Martin and Darryl Sly would later play in the NHL, while coach Kromm would coach in the NHL, winning the Jack Adams Award with Detroit in 1978. While coaching the Red Wings, Kromm often said there wasn’t a team in the NHL in as good condition as his ’61 Smoke Eaters.
“I always say I wish I could relive those ten or twelve days,” says Smoke Eater Norm Lenardon. “A little town like Trail going to play in the world championship. You should’ve have seen this town, everyone was on pins and needles. Imagine what the players felt like!”
Team Members:
Edmund Cristofoli, Claude Cyr, George Ferguson, Don Fletcher, Cal Hockley, Harold Jones, Bobby Kromm (player-coach), Mike Legace, Norm Lenardon, Seth Martin, Hugh “Pinoke” McIntyre, Jackie McLeod, Walt Peacosh, Gerry Penner, Dave Rusnell, Darryl Sly, Harry Smith, Adolph “Addy” Tambellini.
Written and researched by Fred Hume for the BC Sports Hall of Fame.