The Trail Smoke Eaters are pleased to highlight Trail native Darren Rommerdahl as the Alumni of the Month for April, who was a Smoke Eater captain between 1990-1992. Rommerdahl went on to play college hockey at SAIT and is currently working with the Calgary Flames in a Player Development role.
Q: Where has life taken you since you finished playing hockey and how did the role as Player development coach come about?
A: After I was done playing, I immediately got involved in coaching. I coached various levels of minor hockey and went back to where I played college hockey at SAIT. I had a lot of success at each level being a part of some great hockey organizations. I always brought the hard working, Trail Smoke Eater attitude everywhere. My coaching highlights include: winning league championships in AA Midget for the Wheatland Chiefs, 2 National College championships with the SAIT Trojans and a Provincial Championship, Regional Championship and National championship appearance with the Calgary Buffaloes. Probably the worst thing for my coaching career was the Oil & Gas boom in Alberta in 2008. I had opportunities to leave Calgary to coach Junior A hockey in a few places in Western Canada. However, with a young family and a great job in Calgary that afforded me to be involved in hockey, I found it hard to justify leaving. After I left the Buffaloes, I refocused my hockey aspirations and started volunteering at the grass roots as my 5-year-old son entered community hockey. I got myself involved doing development work with several grass roots programs in Calgary. One of my immediate connections was with the lead medical therapist for Hockey Canada and the Calgary Flames, Kent Kobelka. Kent was recommended me for a few assignments and one of those was working with Calgary Flames injured players during their rehabilitation. From here, my role seemed to expand every season. Now I work with the Flames coaching and management staff on development strategies for players throughout the organization. I was very fortunate to make great connections with great people and that helped pave my way. Definitely not your traditional path, which I am very proud of.
Rommerdahl was a Smoke Eater between 1988-92, and captaining the team for two seasons. He was the last player to captain the the Smoke Eaters during their KIJHL days that completed in 90/91 and the teams first Junior A captain in 91/92. The Smoke Eaters made a flawless transition to the Junior A hockey in 91, finishing 1st in the Kooteney division of the Rockey Mountain Junior Hockey League (RMJHL). As the Smoke Eaters wrapped up their Junior B days it was Rommerdahl and his teammates that lead them to a KIJHL Championship and a Cyclone Taylor Cup gold medal, where Rommerdahl scored the OT winner. As part of the RMJHL, the Smoke Eaters went 31-18-3, advancing all the way to the league finals where they lost to the Prince George Spruce Kings 3-2 in a best of five series.
Q: When you look back at your Smoke Eaters career what moment would you highlight or be your best memories?
A: Being a Trail kid, it was always my dream to play for the Smoke Eaters. My great grandfather was the manager for the 1939 World championship Trail Smoke Eaters. The legend of the ‘39 and ‘61 teams were always something that my friends and I looked up to. Those teams/players casted a very large shadow and we always tried to reach similar greatness in our own way. The last year the Smoke Eaters played in the KIJHL was the peak for me. Here we finally were able to put everything together at once. We had a core group of players/coaches/Trainer (Ken Caputo) that were knocking on the door for 3 straight seasons. For many of these guys, it was their last chance and they wanted to go out on top! We were able to win the KIJHL championship and the Cyclone Taylor championship on home ice. Playing in front of my family, friends and neighbors was something I will never forget. We caught lightning in a bottle and there was never a game that I didn’t think we could win. A lot of heart on that team. I still keep in touch with nearly every member of that team. I remember scoring the OT goal to win the Cyclone Taylor Cup. It is easy to say that was my highlight. We didn’t know it at the time but that was the last Smoke Eater Junior B team and we were champions. No other Trail team was able to accomplish that feat.
By scoring the OT winner at the Cyclone Taylor Cup, Rommerdahl was the last player to score a goal for the Junior B Smoke Eaters. He went a step further in September of 91 scoring the teams first goal as a Junior A team.
Q: If you could pass on some advice to today’s group of Smoke Eaters what would it be.
A: When you play for the Smoke Eaters, it comes with high expectations. Take nothing for granted and always remember to give back. Take every opportunity given to you to give back to the Trail and surrounding areas as well as your local communities. Go out of your way to embrace being a role model. Playing for the Smoke Eaters never lasts as long as you want but making a difference in lives of others within the community, lasts forever. It will make a difference!
Q: What is something you wish you had known when you were playing?
A: This is a tough one because I wouldn’t change very much looking back on my 4 years with the Smoke Eaters. I would say how being a part of a hockey team and working with others has prepared me for real life. Because of hockey, I am in a much better place to struggle through adversity. The ups and downs of a hockey season really prepared me for college, my first career outside of hockey and dealing with stress of unknown situations head on. The struggles and the failures will help you be a better person on and off the ice. Don’t be afraid of them. Take them straight on.
Q: What is something that you’ve learned working at higher levels of hockey that you want junior hockey players to know?
A: Every player develops differently. There is not a magical pill or a blue print for success. Stick with your plan because it is yours. There will be good and bad times. Both are crucial for your development. Own it and surround yourself with winners. The people in your inner circle must have your best interests in mind. Believe in your coaches, strength trainers, teammates, family and friends, even when they are delivering unwelcoming news. I don’t know of too many guys who have made it on their own. And I don’t know of one that hasn’t struggled along the way.