For many young Canadian men and women, lifelong bonds are forged on the ice with a stick and a puck. 60 years ago, a group of young Drumheller men came together for one incredible season and left with great memories and a provincial championship.
The 1960-1961 Juvenile Miners, a group of 16-18-year-olds, were cobbled together and rose to hockey greatness. For a brief moment in March 1961, they filled the Drumheller Arena for two evenings of hockey besting Jasper Place in two straight games in front of a roaring crowd. After that, they went their separate ways, but the memories linger.
Bob Rawlusyk was the coach of the 1961 Miners Provincial B Championship team. He had coached a little bit in the house league under the guidance of arena manager Joe Bowman.
“I think I was only a couple of years older than the team,” said Rawlusyk. “I think I was two years older because I played with a bunch of them the next year on the junior team.”
He said the Juvenile team was simply a good mix of hockey players. They had a tough defensive lineup with Jimmy MacDonald, Glen Brost, and Gerald Braunberger, with Dale Sands in the net. Up front, they had some good scorers, including Marvin Siebel, Alex Young, and Max Mestinsek.
“They were all local kids and just liked to play,” said Rawlusyk. “We just put it together, and it was kind of a hodge-podge, but it worked out really good.”
He said hockey was not really as organized at that time, and aside from playing in house leagues, Joe Bowman would drive these teams around to Hanna and other locations to play exhibition games.
One of these players was Max Mestinsek. The East Coulee boy grew up playing hockey on the river with his friends. He recalls he would come home from school and play until it was too dark. After that, they would dig a hole in the ice, and bail water out to flood the rink, so it would be fresh the next day when they got home from school. He recalls a friend had one of the only televisions in East Coulee, and on Saturday night, they would get together to watch the NHL.
He says then very few families in East Coulee had a car. The father of Alex Young, one of Max’s friends, had a car and offered to drive the boys in to try out for the Midget team in 1958.
“That’s how I got started. I had never played organized hockey, I never played in an indoor rink in my life,” he said.
He played midget in Drumheller for a couple of seasons and then moved up to the juvenile team. At that time he and many of the players also played on various local midget or junior teams at the same time.
Mestinsek says one person that played a crucial role in hockey in the valley was Cliff Dobson. He worked for the CPR and after that would pick up Max and Alex to get them to practice every day and then drive them home.
The Juvenile Miners played the 1960-61 season, but had no league, they just played exhibition games. It was clear there was something special to this team, with its combination of size and speed. By the end of the season they were in contention to play in the provincial round.
The Miners had a tough road to the finals playing through four rounds. One of the toughest was against Strathmore in the first go. These were two-game, home and away, total point series, and Drumheller escaped the Strathmore arena with an 11-10 win.
In the second round, they played Medicine Hat and won the series 8-1. This put them on to play West Hillhurst from Calgary and then Taber, winning both series, and winning the Southern Alberta Championship.
The Championship round was played in Drumheller on the evenings of Friday, March 17, and Saturday, March 18 against the Northern Alberta Champions, the Jasper Place Philco Predictas from Edmonton.
On Friday night, the Miners won 2-1, and then on Saturday night put it out of reach with a 6-4 final and total point win 8-5. The arena was packed both nights to cheer the team on.
“It was quite a feat for a bunch of punks from the valley. We probably only played 15 games all year,” said Mestinsek.
Irene and Wes Cook ran the concession and brought hot dogs into the dressing room to celebrate.
Ron Goruik of Rosedale was a member of the team and then went on to play some senior hockey in the valley. It was a thrill for the defenseman to play.
“That was a big thing for Drumheller. The arena was packed for the games. Everybody recognized you in town and at the game,” said Goruik. “We felt good about it. We were just young kids and then everybody knows about you, it makes you feel good.”
After Goruik stopped playing, he worked as a referee and as a linesman when the Falcons played at the Drumheller Memorial Arena. He also coached at the junior level.
“It was exciting at the time, but once we won, a week or so later that was it,” said Goruik.
He said at that time, a lot of the kids didn’t have much money, and the community supported the team. He credits Rosedale’s Mark Sands for showing support and helping with travel and equipment.
His son Dale Sands has fond memories of the season.
“Dad had a ‘56 Buick, so he drove around to hockey games,” he said. “My dad bought hockey sticks, and we did have an old bus for a while. He bought one, just to haul kids around.”
Bob Rawlusyk recalls one trip when the heat broke down on the bus.
For Mestinsek, this was the start of a hockey career. He said former Drumheller Hockey legend Doug Bentley was at the game, was coaching a team from Saskatoon. He wanted Max to play there. Another scout wanted him to play in Moose Jaw because the Chicago Black Hawks were the parent team. There was a scout from Detroit there as well who asked if Max wanted to play for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“For a kid from Alberta, the Oil Kings were like the Montreal Canadiens, so of course I wanted to play there,” said Mestinsek.
He played for the Oil Kings for three years and went to the Memorial Cup three times, winning once. He was on the same team as NHLers Pat Quinn and Glen Sather.
Mestinsek went on to play professionally. He spent two seasons with Detroit affiliate Memphis Wings, in his second year, nabbing 53 points in 67 games. He recalls half the players were from Western Canada and the Oil Kings and the other half were from Hamilton. He said the coach preferred the Eastern players, and the team came out of the gate with a 0-16 record. When the western players began to get ice time, they turned things around and finished with a 26-35 record.
In 1967 he was playing for the Omaha Knights and was drafted by St. Louis in the expansion. In fact, he was the last player to be picked up in the entire draft. He was in a car accident in Edmonton that ended his career. When he moved to the West Coast, Quinn, who then worked for the Canucks convinced him to come aboard and Mestinsek worked for the NHL for 27 years as a scorekeeper and penalty timekeeper. He also spent years coaching through the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association. He spent three and half months in China, coaching its first junior team.
Gerry Braunberger went on to play at the University of Alberta for five years and in the 1968-1969 season had 10 goals and 27 assists, fifth on the team in goals and second in assists.
Dale Sands was goalie, and in the previous season, he played for juveniles, the midget, and the junior team. He had the opportunity to further his career when he was invited to the Oil Kings camp. There 17 goalies were trying out, and the team was taking two. Sands was third in line. He came home and played a little bit with the senior Miners. He was also loaned out to the Ponoka Stampeders.
“I would have to ride down with the senior guys to play hockey and I would play goal for them,” he said. “After the game, they all went to the bar and I just had to sit there because I wasn’t old enough. After three games, I said I was going back to Drumheller.”
While over 60 years, recollections dull and people drift apart, some memories are indelible and come flooding back. For the dozen or so young men who battled for the provincial championship in front of a hometown crowd, that provided highlights that have lasted a lifetime
Mestinsek has been busy getting in contact with former players and is exploring getting the team back together for a reunion this summer if pandemic restrictions allow.