Sports

B.C. historian unearths link between Evil Knievel and Kootenay hockey teams

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A Nelson-based historian has uncovered a curious link between American stunt legend Evel Knievel and two Kootenay-based hockey teams.

According to a post by Greg Nesteroff on his Kütne Reader blog, 19-year-old Robert Knievel joined his hometown Butte Bombers in Montana as a player and assistant coach in the fall of 1958.

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The Bombers were in a loosely-affiliated league that included the Creston Canucks, Trail Rockets, Salt Lake City Icelanders, Seattle Americans and Great Falls Americans.

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Nesteroff referred to a 2011 book Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel, which stated the startup money for the team came from Knievel’s father and grandfather and that the team was based at the Butte Civic Center.

The first game of the season was played in Butte against the Creston Canucks in front of 1,000 people and ended in an 8-6 Bombers comeback victory. Knievel scored two goals, and had an assist and a fight.

Evel Knievel, who played minor pro hockey for Butte, Mont., in the late 1950s, also attended a training camp in Chatham for the Charlotte Checkers of the Eastern league.
Evel Knievel, who played minor pro hockey for Butte, Mont., in the late 1950s, also attended a training camp in Chatham for the Charlotte Checkers of the Eastern league. SunMedia

In January 1959, Butte played the Trail Rockets at home twice, defeating them both times 7-4 and 6-5. The Rockets formed in 1955 and starred centre Leo Mailey, who died in 2021.

“Both games were marred by unsportsmanlike behaviour toward the on-ice officials. In the first game, Rockets coach McCabe hit a referee. In the rematch, Knievel did the same after receiving a major penalty. He later publicly apologized,” Nesteroff reported.

At the start of the 1959-1960 season Knievel (then 20) was appointed president of the team that he also played for.

In that season, the Butte Bombers opened at home against the Trail Rockets and lost 7-6, with a hat trick from the Rockets’ Vern Aikin.

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Nesteroff wrote that the highlight of the Butte Bombers existence was a Feb. 7, 1960 game played against the Czechoslovakian national team as they prepared for the 1960 Winter Olympics in California. The Bombers were defeated 22-3 in front of 2,000 fans.

Stunt daredevil Evel Knievel
Stunt daredevil Evel Knievel SunMedia

The 1960 Winter Olympics hockey gold was won by the U.S. with Canada taking silver and Russia taking bronze. The Czechoslovakians were in a group with the U.S. and Australia. They lost to the U.S. but defeated the Aussies 18-1 and ended fourth in the nine-team tournament.

A decade later, in June 1970, Knievel jumped 12 cars inside the recently-opened Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.

Knievel was an international celebrity known for his wild jump attempts that often ended in failure and broken bones and for a deal he struck with Ideal Toys that used his likeness to sell millions of dollars of toys to kids in the 70s. He died in 2007 aged 69.

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