By: Jim Fisher
For much of the 20th century, this part of Alberta produced some well-known hockey clubs bearing that name but the greatest achievement came from the 1966 Drumheller Miners, Canada’s Allan Cup champions. This club was then selected by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) to represent Canada in the European tour of 1966-67, which included the Bunny ‘A’ Hearne Tournament in Stockholm, Sweden. The tour also included what is believed to be the first time a free-world hockey team had been invited to play in East Germany in the midst of the cold war. This team was selected along with the Memorial Cup and Stanley Cup champions to adorn the 1967 calendar of a national corporation.
Hockey history was made in 1966. This was the only year that both Canada’s Senior and Junior champions competed in the same league. The Miners captured the Allan Cup over Québec, a club that saw a good portion of its team join NHL teams in ensuing years. The Edmonton Oil Kings, owned by the Detroit Red Wings, won the Memorial Cup over the Oshawa Generals led by Bobby Orr.
The Miners that turned out to be the powerhouse of hockey of the 1960s started as a dream by a handful of enthusiasts, and soon blossomed into a club that became known nation-wide. By 1966, the club was built on the frame of former NHL stars and others who were capable of playing in the big league, but instead opted for good jobs and business opportunies at home. In those days, it was often as lucrative to stay home, find a job and play in the best amateur league available. To give you an example, the ‘66 Canadian champions were backstopped by a former Vezina and Heart Trophy winner, Al “Legs” Rollins. It was he who proclaimed the Drumheller Miners of that championship year would have finished fourth in the NHL.
Talk to people today who fondly remember the champion Miners and they’ll tell you each shift was exciting and they looked forward to overflowing crowds game in, game out. One of the greatest rivalries Alberta has seen, developed in the 1960’s involving between Edmonton and Drumheller. Trains were required to transport rabid fans north to cheer on their favourites against the likes of Pat Quinn and Glen Sather. In those years it was not unusual for Detroit (which had the pick of the top junior players in western Canada) to ice Edmonton clubs larger in size than NHL teams. That was determined to be necessary in order to compete against the rugged Miners, a team that instilled fear in the opposition. Good things came to an end, however. The CAHA of the day felt the Oil Kings enjoyed the unfair advantage of playing against more seasoned veterans so it was decreed they could no longer compete in a league against a team such as the Miners.
Colourful names of professional and amateur ranks who performed for the Canadian champion Miners that people still talk about included the likes of Ron ‘Squeak’ Leopold (who nearly set a professional goal scoring record by right wingers), ‘Slippery’ Sid Finney of Chicago, Detroit, Calgary and Edmonton pro fame; ‘Rock’ Crawford-Bobby Solinger who once toiled for Toronto Maple Leafs; Big Jack Rudickuk, Lorne and Ernie Braithwaite; JackYucytus Ronnie Mathers local product Ronnie Loughlin-the speedster Gene Lambert; ‘Big’ Bill McCulley; Owen Mailey; Harvey Linnel - Murray Dea - captain Ray Sawka - and the guy that would bring the fans off their seats and who was one of a kind, Tony Kollman. He could razzle dazzle even the best in the NHL. While he didn’t play on the champion team, local Jack Samuel contributed much to the club leading up to the big year. Of course, no team can win without the right coach and when ‘Irishman’ Roy Kelly felt his club had a chance to win, he made sure they did just that.
The Drumheller Miners made us proud. They started with a dream. Now, another dream is born. The Drumheller Dragons begin on the path to greater accomplishments. The Miners were the team of the 20th century now the Dragons embark on a dream to be the ‘Drumheller Team’ of the 21st century. All the best.
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