It all started when I saw an old clip on YouTube of the 1960 Chatham Maroons playing the U.S.S.R. on Russian television.
Even though the T.V. screen in that video below says 1963, it was actually Nov. 26, 1960 when the Maroons senior squad met Moscow Select in Russia and were bombed 11-2 by the home team.
Chatham had won the Allan Cup the previous spring by taking out the Trail Smoke Eaters in four of five games, and the Ontario squad played two exhibition games months later in Moscow, winning the first contest 5-3 before this 11-2 slaughter.
Unfortunately, Chatham opted out of representing Canada in the 1961 World Championships in Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland due to lack of funds, and were replaced by the runner-up Smoke Eaters, who would end up winning the gold medal and gaining legendary status in the process.
I also discovered more to this story, after chatting with the daughter of the then-Smoke Eaters president, who was also the high school principal in Trail at the time.
The Smoke Eaters worked hard to go to the Worlds after Chatham bowed out. Players took out personal loans, and the team wrote to all six NHL teams hoping for some sort of financial help.
But it was only Montreal that stepped up to the plate, with the Molson family, owners of the Canadiens, giving Trail $1000, which was a fair amount of coin in 1961 (equal to $8000 today), and the Habs providing some serious hockey equipment.
The other teams, the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, and Chicago Black Hawks, were cheap bastards.
Topping it all off was Cominco, the gigantic smelter plant in Trail where most or all of the Smoke Eaters worked, who gave the players’ families weekly stipends while the team was in Europe.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled Habs slump.
Below, Chatham in Russia against Moscow Select, and below that, the final game of the 1961 Worlds, when the Trail Smoke Eaters blasted the Soviet National Team 5-1.