Greater Trail residents can stop holding their collective breath …
Trophy Town: Local Heroes, International Legends is premiering at the Royal Theatre in Trail next week.
The documentary about the Trail Smoke Eaters’ improbable victories at the 1939 and 1961 World Hockey Championships is hitting the Royal Theatre’s newly minted screen like a slap shot into the back of a net starting Nov. 12.
For Trophy Town director, Robert Barrett, it was the only option.
“I very much enjoyed Trail and the region,” Barrett told the Trail Times. “We were always treated with kindness and support.
“We attended games, we went out for dinners and lunches, I think we hit every (restaurant) and pub in town as well as a few in Rossland. It became like filming with friends.”
The documentary began filming in August 2019, but no one wrote a global pandemic into the script. The dedicated crew from Toronto remained vigilant and after two-and-a-half years in the making, the film’s release is imminent.
“Like everyone, we had no idea that the pandemic would create hurdles — in process, personnel and momentum,” said Barrett. “So we adapted and the final outcome, the film, has been well worth the journey. I’m very pleased with the outcome. It has an emotional core that was always my intention.”
And the story only gets better.
The creators invited former NHLer and current ESPN and TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro to the mix. A Trail native, Ferraro was asked to narrate the documentary.
“I didn’t have to think at all, I was happy and am proud to have a small part,” Ferraro told the Times.
Viewing and then narrating Trophy Town provided Ferraro a poignant reconnection with his past.
“Watching the film was pretty emotional for me. It made me think of mom and dad (Anna and Ed Ferraro), how they were proud of our town and how dad and I connected deeply around my hockey and going to the Smokies games each week.
“It also was really fun to show my wife (Cammi Granato) and younger boys (Reese and Riley) part of my hometown.”
Filming required a number of visits to Trail and other communities to interview players from the ‘61 Smoke Eaters team and family members from the ‘39 team.
Smokies ‘61 captain Cal Hockley, and players Dave Rusnell, Harold Jones, Don Fletcher, Gerry Penner, Ed Cristofoli, and Norm Lenardon, as well as family members and others, reminisced about the championship run, the many hurdles, experiences and ensuing celebrations.
Barrett says he could not have made the film without contributions from the community, and a wealth of information and images from the Trail Historical Society, Trail Museum and Archives, the CBC and National Film Board.
“Many of the team players’ families stepped up big time, including Daryl Hockley, who provided all the film Cal shot during the ‘61 trip,” said Barrett.
Sadly, Cal Hockley passed away on Dec. 10, 2020, 11 months before the film’s release.
Trophy Town executive producer Brad Daniels also made a special connection to the Smoke Eaters a decade before the film was made. His brother Scott Daniels, a Trail resident, attended the ‘61 Smoke Eaters 50th Anniversary celebration, and left with a signed jersey for their father.
“On his 75th birthday — June 4, 2011 — my brother Scott gave him a Smoke Eaters jersey signed by all the surviving members in attendance at the 50th Anniversary celebrations that year,” said Brad. “Eight days later my father passed away and that jersey has been hanging in my closet to this day.”
In 2018, Brad Daniels visited Trail with Barrett and their mutual friend Stephen Sweeting who came to the Silver City to appraise memorabilia in the Trail Museum and Archives.
“For the first time, we were told the incredible full story of this team,” said Daniels. “Bob (Barrett) approached me and my business partner, Toccar Brown, to finance a film about the team, and of course we couldn’t say no.”
The film became a web of connections and storylines that were only enhanced by the filmmakers relationships with the players and families.
“For me personally, I became very attached to the story and the players, whose generosity in time and memory was very emotional for me,” said Barrett. “After watching this film many, many times, I still get choked up.”
Daniels sees that connection in a more universal light, shared in communities across North America.
“The story of the Smoke Eaters is so much more than just the story of a successful western hockey club. It illustrates why hockey is so important to Canadians and how that came to be.
“We are a nation of immigrants whose prosperity has been founded on the exploitation of our many natural resources. Companies like Cominco understood the power of sport to galvanize communities and enrich the lives of the people who live there.
“The rivalries with other ‘company towns’ produced excellence in the sport, and bolstered community pride.”
Daniels noted the style of hockey brought to North America in the ‘80s from Europe, had in fact been brought to Europe in 1939 by the world champion Smoke Eaters. Similarly, later in ’61, a much more physical style of hockey had evolved in Trail and characterized the hockey he saw in the ‘70s.
“It was that new style of hockey that earned Trail the championship in 1961 and set the stage for the ‘72 Canada-Russia Series,” added Daniels.
The legacies of the ‘39 and ‘61 Smoke Eaters teams were never in doubt, but Trophy Town promises to be an exciting, educational, at times humorous, often difficult, but always riveting journey through time.
“I hope people in Trail can realize how special these teams are,” said Ferraro. “Maybe if you see or saw the players all the time you can forget how remarkable this was.
“But as I played in Europe, I quickly learned how much these teams were part of the fabric of the international game.”
At the beginning, Barrett intended to share a story about how two remarkable teams from an unremarkable place became world champions.
Somewhere along the way, it became much more than that.
“For me greatness is not measured by an individual’s accomplishments, but by their ecosystem, their support network,” said Barrett.
“No one can deny that the talent the Smoke Eaters exhibited was exceptional.
“But their secret weapon?” he asked rhetorically.
“The fans, their neighbours, coworkers and their unwavering belief in the ‘Orange and Black.’”
Tickets can be purchased at the Royal Theatre or online at royaltheatretrail.com. Showtimes are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. every day except Monday from Nov. 12 to Nov. 18.