Smoke Eater Seth Martin

Every young player must have someone to look up to, to idolize, to desire to become as good. Vladislav Tretiak, the first great Russian goaltender, chose to aspire to be as great of an international goaltender as Canada's incomparable Seth Martin over such early Russian goaltenders as Viktor Konovalenko and Nikolay Puchkov.

The Russians new him very well during their international clashes in the 1960s. He routinely impressed them with his consistency and style. They respected him and feared him perhaps more than any other Canadian amateur during this time period. They thought of Martin as being the supreme goaltender, and copied his style to train future Russian netminders, including a young Vladislav Tretiak. Martin would become the role model for Tretiak and Soviet goalies of the future.

But other nations also studied Martin, most notably Czechoslovakia. Czech goaltending legend Jiri Holecek, who later influenced Vladimir Dzurilla and Dominik Hasek, closely watched Martin.

Most people in Canada don't have a clue who Seth Martin is however. The record books show that Seth Martin played only a handful of NHL games, all with the 1968 expansion St. Louis Blues.

He is best known for his international play during the 1960s. His most glorified moment came in Switzerland during the 1961 World Championships where he backstopped his hometown Trail Smoke Eaters to the World Championship. He allowed only 11 goals in 7 contests en route to being named as the tournament's best goaltender.

The Smoke Eaters became legendary as they were the last Canadian team to win that prestigious tournament until the mid 1990's when a team made up of NHLers not involved in the NHL playoffs. However they were true amateurs, most with day jobs at the Cominco smelters, facing off against the all-but-official professionals from eastern Europe.

Unable to win on the international stage with true amateurs, Canada turned to Father David Bauer's plan to have a true national team. The players would remain amateurs, unlike their Soviet counterparts, as players were enticed with room and board plus full scholarships at the University of British Columbia. Canada would be able to train a team for international competitions year round, but would rarely attract top talent.

One exception was Martin. A charter member of the International Hockey Hall of Fame, Martin would represent Canada in the IIHF World Championships in 1963, 1964, 1966 and 1967, winning bronze medals in four championships. In addition to his 1961 gold medal and best goaltender nod, Martin's trophy case also proudly notes his status as the best goalie at the 1963, 1964 and 1966 worlds.

He also participated in the Olympic Winter Games 1964 in Innsbruck, Austria, controversially finishing fourth. After watching the team struggle in pre-Olympic exhibition games, observers gave the Canadians little chance of winning a medal against the pros from Europe. But Canada started strong, winning 8-0 over Switzerland and they would chalk up four more wins, including a 6-4 win over the defending gold medalists from the United States. Against Czechoslovakia, Canada led 1-0 and goaltender Seth Martin looked unbeatable until Czech forward Miroslav Vlach ran into him on a clearing play, hurting his knee. He was replaced by Ken Broderick, who surrendered three goals and Canada lost 3-1.

Canada's final game was against the Soviets, who had won all six of their games. Canada, needing a win to clinch the gold, jumped out to a 1-0 lead. The Soviets tied it in the second before Bob Forhan made it 2-1 for Canada. The Soviets stormed back to tie the game with two minutes left in the second. For the start of the third, the Canadians made a goaltending change, inserting Martin even though his knee was not 100-percent. Bauer felt the presence of Martin would be enough to throw the Soviets off their game. Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov responded by telling his players not to shoot unless they were certain to score - he did not want to give Martin a chance to warm up in the nets. The Soviets would score on their first shot of the third to take a 3-2 lead. Martin would face 18 more shots in the period, but would stop them all. Unfortunately, the Canadians could not tally the equalizer, giving the Soviets the win and the gold.

At 5-2, Canada was tied with Czechoslovakia and Sweden for second place but based on goal differential, Canada would be placed third behind the Swedes with the Czechs in fourth. Olympic officials surprised the Canadians by ruling that the tie-breaker would be goal differential based on the entire tournament - not just among teams involved in the medal round. That decision moved the Czechs up into third and dropped Canada to fourth, out of the medals for the first time in Olympic hockey history.
In 2005, a motion almost passed through the IIHF hierarchy to compensate Canada with a second bronze medal, however the IIHF feared setting the precedent may open up a slew of similar appeals and ultimately rejected Canada's motion.

The Canadian national team was never good enough to challenge to professionals from the Soviet Union, but they admirably and valiantly represented the nation. Martin was undoubtedly the MVP of the "Nats." Without his strong goaltending, Canada would never have captured what they did during the 1960s.

In 1968 the NHL doubled in size by expanding from 6 to 12 teams. With the continuing Canadian struggles about the professional-amateur status debate in international hockey souring and ultimately ending Canadian participation in international hockey, Martin opted to give the National Hockey League a try.

With the St. Louis Blues he backed up Glenn Hall, one of the greatest goaltenders in hockey history. Martin appeared in 30 games, posting a 8-10-7 record with a 2.59 GAA. By no means did set the league on fire, but he did hold his own.

Outrageous NHL salaries were still a few years away. Happy enough with his one season in the NHL, Martin returned home to Trail where he returned to his job at Cominco, making comparable money to the NHL, and returned to play with the local senior team.

Remembering the Smoke Eaters

The following article was recently printed in the Vancouver Province newspaper -
Seth Martin, who backstopped the Trail Smoke Eaters to claim the 1961 world hockey championship still gets cards and letters.

They arrive at his Trail home from all over Europe, notes wishing him well and requests for autographs.

"I probably get 150 a year," Martin says. "I got one just about a month ago from a guy in the Czech Republic. He remembered me. He wanted an autograph.

"It's exciting when I do get them, sometimes overwhelming."

The '61 Smokies still are regard as highly - if not more so - in Europe as they are in Canada, perhaps because they were the last Canadian team to win the world title since Paul Kariya - another B.C. native - led the nation back to gold glory in 1994.
Or it could be that the Smoke Eaters - made up mostly of hometown boys and coached by the relentless Bobby Kromm - were never expected to win.

The Canadian Federation of Hockey doubted we'd do well." Martin says. "In fact, (federation president) Jack Roxborough apologized to us after we had won. He just as much as said he didn't think we would win, but he was certainly glad we had proved him wrong."

It came down to Canada's final game against the Russians. To win the world championship, Trail had to beat the Russians by two or three goals - there was some confusion over the tie breaking formula.

Any confusion vanished when Norm Lenardon scored to put Trail up 5-1 - the final score - with about three minutes in regulation.

I can remember skating the length of the ice" after the goal, Martin says. "I was probably the third guy to get to (Lenardon)."

And with that, Martin's successful international run began, as he wound up playing in five more world championships, wowing crowds around Europe.

Says hockey researcher Ron Boileau:

"The Europeans think of Seth Martin as much as we think of Vladislav Tretiak here in Canada."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I meet the Smoke Eaters in Germany after their win in Switzerland. I was their stickboy for an exibition game against the Canadian army All Stars. The team gave me a signed stick which was later stolen. I will always remember meeting Mr Kromm and Seth Martin. Great Team - The Trail Smoke Eaters.

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