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Go Smokies Go – A hockey legend

March 16, 2011

A Canadian hockey legend lives on

Shivers went through me as I watched Norm Lenardon score the fifth and final goal to clinch the world amateur hockey championships for the Trail Smoke Eaters. I could feel a tear forming as I re-listened to a CD of the voice of CFRB Toronto’s Bill Stevenson calling the game on the radio from Geneva, Switzerland, on March 12, 1961.

Fifty years later, the citizens of Trail, B.C., filled the old Royal Theatre on March 12, 2011, to cheer on the Smokies and bask in the glory of their 5-1 victory against the Soviet Union. It was the second time the Smokies had won the coveted cup and it put Trail on the world map forever.

We had gathered to fete these once young Davids, now in their late 60s or 70s most with white hair and rounded shoulders. They had slain the hockey Goliath, a feat the experts insisted couldn’t be done. They were our local heroes – proud, humble, and each of them one of us.

I sat in the packed theatre two rows back from the Smokies and one row back from the junior Smokies who had sadly failed to stay in this year’s playoffs. Only a few days before “Spirit ’61,” the title of the 50th anniversary event, they had succumbed to the Westside Warriors of Kelowna.

My memories ran back to that Sunday morning in 1961 when Dad and I listened breathlessly to the game on an old radio in the basement workshop. It was a powerful moment of father-son bonding around a team that both of us had grown up cheering, living with their losses and celebrating their wins, sharing their disappointments and their joys.

"The Moment" - The Smokies win in Geneva - March 12, 1962

Memories, tears, cheers filled the Royal as the young beauty queens led the old Smokies down the aisle to the whistles and applause of the home-town audience. Those of us who were old enough remembered where we were when the team won the cup. Others remembered what their fathers and mothers had told them about the game. That it was important, even life changing.

Now those memories came alive again. First in seeing the Smokies still strong and proud. These are our ‘boys,’ noted Mayor Dieter Bogs in proclaiming “Smokies Day.” Team captain Cal Hockley reminisced as did defenseman Harry Smith, who donated the painting “The Moment” to the local museum.  It captures the rapture of the team and the fans after the big win.

Teck Cominco general manager Mike Martin praised the team and told the crowd how proud he was that his “home-town company” had long supported the “home-town team.” The company also made a handsome contribution to Spirit ’61. As co-sponsors of the event, along with the city and the historical society, their funding helped pay for the colourful program, stickers and other items to celebrate the game that Trail will always remember.

Many of the Smokies – 17 by Martin’s count – were given jobs at the giant smelter now owned by Teck. By day they were firemen, labourers, mechanics and various other vocations. By night they were transformed into the world-famous Trail Smoke Eaters, winners of world championships in 1939 as well as 1961, the only team to ever accomplish that feat. To wear the orange and black sweater with the smoke stacks on the logo was a special honour.

Next, a rare treat. The Trail Historical Society, the event’s main organizer, had found some exclusive news footage showing highlights of the final game. It was from a French TV station so English subtitles were needed, but it didn’t matter. Here, for the first time, were clear images of the Trail Smoke Eaters in action thousands of miles from home. Again the shivers came.

The Smoke Eaters posing in downtown Trail with the Cominco stacks behind them.

And finally a screening of For the Love of the Game, the locally produced video documentary that has National Hockey League big shot Frank Selke saying the Smokies were a second or third rate team that should never be representing Canada. Boos from the crowd. The Smokies proved him wrong.

I shook off the shivers of excitement and dried my eyes long enough to rub shoulders with a few of the old Smokies and congratulate them once again for a victory that no one in Trail will ever forget. I was walking next to a piece of local history that will always resonate with hockey fans everywhere.

 ‘Go Smokies Go,’ I whispered to myself as I glanced up at the big smoke stacks that dominate Trail’s landscape and then down at my commemorative photo of the team signed by final goal scorer Norm Lendardon. ‘Go Smokies Go.’

To read a childhood memoir about the Smoke Eaters go to https://www.ronverzuh.ca/2011/02/23/the-all-powerful-mr-b/ .

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5 Responses to Go Smokies Go – A hockey legend

  1. robert cacchioni on March 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    hello mr. verzuh, thanks you for a wonderful article. i too listened to the game and it stays with me in my memories. regards, robert cacchioni

    • Ron Verzuh on March 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      Thank you for those kind remarks, Robert. I’m interested in receiving any memories of Selwyn Blaylock that historical society members want to share. Regards, RV

  2. Leola on March 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    This is a terrific story! A great addition to your beautiful and diverse website! Your photos are superb!

    I just viewed the China and Cuba shots on Picasaweb… Stunning! As are your travel photos on Flickr.

  3. Jamie Forbes on March 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Hi Ron,

    Great story and we all appreciate yourcomments and the summary of our celebration of the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters. Everyone in attendance was moved by the accolades heaped on the players and the new film footage of the tournament unearthed by our Society. It was a day to remember and the players appreciated being honoured for what they accomplished 50 years ago. A defining moment in Trail’s history.

    Jamie Forbes
    President, Trail Historical Society

  4. cscps on March 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Useful info shared. I am very pleased to read this write-up. thanks for giving us nice info.

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