The Kootenay Ice have certainly captured the imagination of hockey fans in Cranbrook with their inspiring series against Calgary.
Forty years ago this weekend the Cranbrook Royals were the darlings of hockey fans in the East Kootenay as they hosted the Allan Cup Finals at the Cranbrook Arena against the Barrie (Ontario) Flyers who had a number of old pros and retired NHLers on their squad.
The Flyers actually were from Toronto but played out of Barrie.
The Cranbrook Royals were led by outstanding forward Jimmy Miller, who had amassed 57 goals that season in the Western International Hockey League. Gifted with great skating ability and an accurate slap shot, Miller was a fan favourite in Cranbrook, which had not had a bona fide superstar on the team since Ron “Spike” Huston had gone on to the NHL from the Royals a few years before.
Local boys who played in the Allan Cup and still live in Cranbrook are Ray Goss (defence), Bobby Murdoch, Marvin Ferg, Brian Dickie, Billy Martin, Ed Legare and Jim Miller (forwards). Trainer Bill DeLuca, and Royal President Jerry Wiebe are here as well. Royals goalie Wayne Doll was a standout in the nets during the Royals’ Allan Cup series. “Dolly” still lives in town.
The 1974 Allan Cup held in Cranbrook was a complete sell-out — many hockey fans who could not get into the rink had to catch the games on CKEK Radio with Ken White.
Jimmy Miller was involved in a very strange play that would ulimately cost Cranbrook the Allan Cup. Jim (who could skate with the best of them) sprang free on a breakaway, and was bearing down on the Barrie netminder — former Leaf Gerry MacNamara — when the Barrie defenceman threw his stick at the puck and knocked it off of Miller’s stick. Inexplicably, the referee, who was from Kimberley, did not call a penalty shot, nor did he even blow his whistle. The play came back into Cranbrook’s end, and as it always seems to happen in hockey, a goal was scored by Kent Rhunke of Barrie, which sank the Cranbrook Royals then and there.
The Allan Cup was going east, a trophy as old as the Stanley Cup and just as hard to win too.
Hockey fever was certainly rampant in the spring of 1974, much how it is these days with the Kootenay Ice, who are chasing their own dream, the 2014 Memorial Cup. Their current playoff opponent are the Medicine Hat Tigers — Rob Niedermayer’s Junior team.
Jimmy Miller was an outstanding hockey player before he even came to the Cranbrook Royals. He was an All-American left winger in 1971 and 1972 for Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, before returning to Canada, and was inducted into the NCAA Hockey Hall of Fame (2002) in Minnesota. Jimmy and his wife Sophie attended his induction ceremonies. The Cranbrook Royals had three players who could really shoot the puck: Billy Martin (all time leading scorer in the league with 470 goals), Ron Spiker Huston and Jim Miller.
Eddie Lukan, who ran the Cranbrook Arena snack bar with his wife Shirley, mentioned to me that Jimmy would unload his slap shot just after crossing the blue line and had a knack for picking the top corner, glove or blocker side, time and time again. Some people just have that gift.
Most of the Cranbrook Royals circa 1974 have become ardent Kootenay Ice supporters.