Drumheller is a hockey town, from the great Drumheller Miner teams to the Falcons, the Raptors and now the Dragons.
One name that has been a part of this history is Jack Samuel. His story starts like many others. He was born and raised in the valley, less a couple years as a boy that he spent in Wales. At 15, he was back in Drumheller, and began his hockey career. He played school hockey and midget, up to the Junior B Miners. He also played in the Central Alberta Intermediate B hockey.
In 1956, he was scouted by the New York Rangers and went to their camp in Saskatoon. From there, he went to play for a short time in Lethbridge.
He chuckles that when he went to Lethbridge to play he had to give up his job in Drumheller. When he returned, he was without work, and that’s when he began to work toward his plumbing ticket. He continued to play hockey, and played intermediate A with the Red Deer Rustlers and then a year with the Ponoka Stampeders.
In 1958, he was back home and started Samuel Plumbing and Heating.
He began to build his business, which eventually became a family enterprise with his sons Jim and Tom carrying on operation.
Hockey was no longer on his mind when he was approached by his close friend Ken Fleger, who brought him the idea of maybe bringing a senior team to the valley. At the time, there was no hockey above the junior level, and a number of community leaders came to the forefront to make that happen.
In 1960, the Drumheller Miners were reborn. Samuel was a part of making that happen, and was a member of the team, but fate was not on his side. He recalls in 1965 he was on the roster, and the team had an average season. The next season, his company secured a contract that took him to Bashaw for most of the winter. He signed up to play with the Red Deer Rustlers for the 1965-66 season.
This of course was Drumheller’s year, and while the Rustlers nearly beat the Miners out of the playoffs, the Miners went on and won the Allan Cup without Samuel.
He was back with the team, but not on the ice, when the Miners toured Europe the following season.
The investment needed to win the Alan Cup, combined with the changing hockey landscape and the advent of World Hockey saw the Drumheller Miners only last a couple more seasons.
In 1969, his desire for premier hockey in the valley had not gone away and he and Tony Kollman began to explore bringing hockey back to Drumheller. The Drumheller Falcons became the seventh team in the AJHL after acquiring the assets of the Ponoka Stampeders in 1971. He was coach, manager and part owner.
The team got off to a mediocre start. Samuel explains the Falcons were originally affiliated with Medicine Hat, and served as a development team. This meant young inexperienced players were coming to Drumheller, while the other teams in the province were at the top of the league.
“The fans were used to a having a winner after the Drumheller Miners,” said Samuel.
Samuel made the decision to break ties with Medicine Hat, and brought on Don Phelps as coach. Phelps played with the Drumheller Miners, and was coaching minor hockey in Calgary at the time.
Phelps went on to become the most winning coach in the AJHL and retired last year.
Also added to the roster was Ryan Wecker. Samuel was in awe of his ability and he went on to set a number of AJHL records.
On the worksite, he wasn’t too much help though. Samuel said both Phelps and Wecker worked for him in the plumbing business, but were too busy with hockey, Samuel laughs and says he put them on the same crew, so only one would be ruined.
Wecker went to Medicine Hat and won the league championship in 1973. He returned to Drumheller for the 1974-1975 season. They made it to the finals against the Spruce Grove Mets, a team coached by Doug Messier. Samuel remembers one Sunday afternoon where the Falcons set a record, jamming 2,400 people into the Drumheller Memorial Arena for a playoff game.
Second in the league was as good as the Falcons could muster. The next season they finished fifth overall and then took a hiatus. Samuel found that running a business and a hockey team at once was too much and left the team. In 1979 the team came back, but without Samuel.
Since then, he has grown the business and today it is a family business. He also spent 34 years on the Drumheller Fire Department, and for 17 was the third fire chief.
As for hockey, the apple does not fall far from the tree as his grandson Spencer last year played Junior B in Revelstoke and is looking towards playing Junior A.
In the winter you’ll find Samuel at the Drumheller Memorial Arena watching the Dragons. He makes most games when he is in town. He enjoys watching, and hopes that the team will put together a strong season.