Rare Smoke Eater jersey up for auction

The Trail Historical Society has an opportunity to add a rare gem to its rich collection of Trail Smoke Eater memorabilia.

The Trail Historical Society (THS) has an opportunity to add a rare gem to its rich collection of Trail Smoke Eater memorabilia and is hoping local businesses and individuals will help out.

Montreal’s Classic Auctions is advertising an authentic 1937-42 Trail Smoke Eaters game-worn wool jersey attributed to Roy Bentley that will go up for bid as part of a collection of 50 vintage jerseys set to hit the docket next month.

“It’s very high-end stuff,” said THS president Jamie Forbes. “The majority of it, probably 98 per cent, is hockey, and a lot of that is NHL stuff.”

While the auction house seems uncertain as to the jersey’s exact date and provenance, some sleuthing by THS museum and archives director Sarah Benson discovered the jersey was more likely worn by Roy’s younger brother Wyatt “Scoop” Bentley who was player-coach in 1941-42 for the Smoke Eaters, their only season in the Alberta B.C. Hockey League (ABCHL).

“We know there was no Bentley on the ‘37-38 team or the ‘38-39 team,” said Benson. “In ‘37-38 they won the Allan Cup, ‘38-39 was the season they went to the worlds. We were actually able to narrow that down and we found the (Trail Times) newspaper clipping in ‘41 where Wyatt “Scoop” Bentley was hired to act as player-coach for that season, and he was only here for one season.”

Scoop Bentley is one of six brothers of the famed Delisle, Sask. hockey family that included NHL Hart Trophy winner Max Bentley and brother Doug. Both Doug and Max won NHL scoring titles with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Max would go on to win four Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Scoop did not play in the NHL but had a successful senior hockey career with the Seattle Ironmen of the PCHL from ‘44-48 and Spokane Flyers ‘49-52 of the WIHL.

In his lone season in Trail wearing the No. 16 orange-and-black, Bentley played alongside the ‘father of Czech hockey’ Mike Buchna and Larry Kwong, the first Chinese-Canadian to play in the NHL, but World War II  put an end to the ABCSL and delayed play until after the war.

The Smokies’ sweater is now one of a long and distinguished line of history offered in the auction, including: 1960s Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys worn by George Armstrong and Tim Horton, 70s Boston Bruins jerseys game-worn and signed by Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Gerry Cheevers, a Montreal Canadiens John Ferguson jersey, and the more contemporary Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and Taylor Hall Edmonton Oilers’ rookie sweaters.

“It just proves how the legacy that this team (the Smoke Eaters) and certainly that image has left on hockey nationwide and internationally, so we’ll see what happens,” says Benson.

In Classic’s 2011 auction, the THS took a shot at an iconic ‘61 Team Canada World Championship jersey worn by Smoke Eater Jackie MacLeod, but could not keep up with the bidding, as the article eventually sold for almost $10,000 after auction fees.  Forbes doesn’t expect the ‘41-42 jersey to be as high, but the THS is hoping to have enough funds on hand to be competitive in an uncertain market.

“We are just looking for some support in the community. We have no idea, this thing could go for $800, it could go for $5,000,” said Forbes. “All it is right now is a commitment. We don’t want money, we’re just trying to build up a bit of a fund here because we don’t know what the competition is going to be, but I think we’re pretty much focused this time on buying it.”

The iconic image of the Cominco smoke stacks (with smoke), its condition, unique origin, and historic WWII era team makes this Trail Smoke Eaters jersey one of the rare finds and the THS would like nothing more than to bring it home.

“We see it as an integral part of our Trail Smoke Eater history,” added Benson. “We do have one ‘39 jersey but really that’s it, that era, especially wool . . . It’s just one of those things we’d love to get our hands on, and it belongs here back where it was made and it was played, and I’d hate to see it in a private collection.”

For more info call the Trail Historical Society at 364-0829 or email history@trail.ca.