Trail Smoke Eaters' gold ends hockey's amateur era
March 12, 1961 - Geneva, Switzerland
The names might seem familiar, but the era was different and the game even more different from the 21st century we now live in. There was Legace and Tambellini, Martin, Jones, Smith, and Kromm, but their first names are from a time long removed: Mike Legace, Addy Tambellini, Seth Martin, Hal Jones, Harry Smith, and Bobby Kromm (who was also the coach) all played for Canada’s 1961 entry at the World Championships, the Trail Smoke Eaters.
At the time, this tournament was not seen as the end of an era or the final win or a turning point in hockey history, but in retrospect it was all three. During these years, Canada and the Soviets were the two favourites to win the tournament, and the final game between the two often provided the difference between gold and silver. This year was no exception. During the eight-team, seven-game round robin, the two top nations were nearly invincible, but when the Czechs beat the Soviets 6-4 and tied Canada 1-1, they made it a three-team race for gold. Canada finished first and claimed the gold thanks to a 5-1 romp over the Soviets, and although the Smoke Eaters and Czechs were tied with 6-1-0 records, Canada finished first because of a superior goal differential.
Indeed, the final game was dominated by the Canadians. Smith gave the team an early 1-0 lead, and then Jackie McLeod and Jones made it 3-0 after two periods. Yet as the players poured off the bench after the final horn, how could they have known the importance of this moment? The next year, Canada abandoned club representation in international hockey and adopted Father David Bauer’s proposal of a National Team. The Soviets went on to win every tournament for nearly a decade, and then Canada withdrew from competition. The next time Canada won gold was in 1994, some 33 years after the Smoke Eaters returned home to British Columbia to a hero’s welcome. Players from that ’94 team are more familiar to the modern reader: Kariya, Sakic, Shanahan, Arnott, Ranford, Sydor, Ricci. By 1994, there was checking allowed in the offensive zone; overtime and shootouts decided tie games; and, the team was composed almost entirely by players from the NHL—all unthinkable changes in 1961. The Trail Smoke Eaters truly were the last amateur champions, replaced over time, to be sure, but never forgotten.
About the Top 100 Stories
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.