It has been two years since the Trail Sr. Smoke Eaters alumni last met for their annual Christmas dinner, so they had a lot of catching up to do at this year’s gathering at the Trail Memorial Centre, Dec. 17.
Organizer Wayne Florko welcomed about 40 players who skated in the Western International Hockey League (WIHL) to the dinner, as well as those from the more recent teams who also battled for the Allan Cup.
It was a good thing it happened when it did, just prior to the new COVID restrictions.
The Christmas gathering rekindles old friendships and brings back a flood of memories for former teammates and friends, many of whom came over from Cranbrook to join their old teammates and rivals.
The Sr. Smoke Eaters also welcomed the current Smoke Eaters director of hockey operations Craig Clare and head coach and GM Tim Fragle to the event. Fragle was hired in the midst of the early pandemic so it was his first introduction to the veteran Smoke Eaters.
Clare and the Jr. Smoke Eaters are ramping up their own alumni organization and Florko looks forward to building an association with the younger Smoke Eaters.
“I’ve never been in an arena where I’ve seen so many banners hanging,” said Florko. “We really have a rich history here, and we have to continue to do our part. I’d like to say that in the future we’d like to make sure that our WIHL is not forgotten, and that’s why we are going to try to open it up to more teams and get more guys together.”
Everyone was thrilled to see Dave Rusnell and Norm Lenardon, members of the ‘61 World Championship Smoke Eaters, who also appeared in the film Trophy Town: Local Heroes, International Legends.
City of Trail councilor Sandy Santori paid tribute to the ‘39 and ‘61 teams and talked about the impact of the film.
“I was quite impressed,” said Santori. “For those who saw Trophy Town will agree that they compiled something totally different than what was already there. Not only did it focus on the two teams, it focused on the community and the people in the community.
“And even more importantly, we all grew up focusing on the ‘61 Smoke Eaters, which of course we’re all very proud of, but what Trophy Town did it really exemplified what the 1939 team did and their accomplishments, and the number of games they played in the short period they had.
“When you look at that accomplishment, there’s not another team in the world … that have ever come as close to take on that many teams and be as successful as the 1939 Trail Smoke Eaters.”
In March, the City and Trail Smoke Eaters celebrated the 60th anniversary of the ‘61 World Championship team by proclaiming March of every year, Trail Smoke Eater Month, to honour not only the ‘39 and ‘61 world champions, but all Smoke Eaters teams - past, present and future.
“I think it’s important to us as a city that that legacy, not only of the two teams that were successful in winning the world championship, but that the name of the Trail Smoke Eaters continues on for generations.”
Following the dinner, the Sr. Smoke Eaters all enjoyed watching the Jr. Smoke Eaters take on the Cranbrook Bucks.