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Where no team had gone before
50 years ago, the Drumheller Miners became the first ‘free world’ hockey team to play in East Germany
Paul Edmonds
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January 19, 2017
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It was a Cold War hockey series that had very little political motivation, which at the time was certainly unique in this part of the world.

There was no special attention paid to it even though it involved a Canadian team passing through the Iron Curtain to participate. And the results mattered little for points on the bureaucratic spectrum.

In other words, there was no undercurrent similar to that of the historic 1972 Summit Series.

For a group of Albertans, fresh off an Allan Cup championship, the only item they were armed with other than their equipment for the two-game set in East Germany was gum.

Specifically, Doublemint.

And plenty of it.

“We were told to take gum over there,” said Jack Yucytus, a defenceman with the Drumheller Miners, a squad that after capturing the 1966 Allan Cup with a six-game victory over the Sherbrooke Beavers were invited by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (now Hockey Canada) the following Christmas to travel to the East Germany for a pair of exhibition games.

They were used as a tune-up to start a European trip for the Canadians that also included representing the country at the Ahearne Cup in Sweden.

“(Gum) was a big hit over there,” added Yucytus. “Of course the team took packages because it was so easy to carry. It was a treat for the kids.”

As national senior hockey champions, when the Miners hit the ice in East Germany for single games in Dresden and Weiswasser they were considered to be the first team from the ‘free world’ to play hockey in East Germany under Communist rule.

They managed wins in both games (earning 3-2 and 2-0 victories) which were scheduled as exhibition matches before the Miners ventured to Stockholm and Finland for the continuation of their hockey tour.

At the time Yucytus was a 35-year-old husband and father working full-time at Union Oil (now 76, a division of Phillips 66 Company) as the head of the payroll department. It was this balance between work and hockey that forced him to miss appearing in the team’s championship picture post-title.

But senior hockey with the Miners allowed Yucytus to continue to play passionately and competitively in his home province as a way of remaining involved at an elite level of the game with a few perks.

However, the trip to Europe with the Miners was nothing new for the Calgarian, who after completing his junior hockey career years earlier in Lethbridge and following a tryout at a New York Rangers free agent camp with 70-plus others in Winnipeg, ventured overseas. He played a handful of years in countries like West Germany, England and Scotland before returning home.

“I turned 20 years old over there,” he said.

But even with some significant cultural experience in Western Europe, the hockey sojourn into East Germany was different, but enlightening and cordial.

“It was rustic over there,” he recalls. “But the people were wonderful and they treated us well.”

Since the two games in East Germany were played just before Christmas and the Miners being from the chilly prairies, they were well prepared for the European winter.

In fact, they stood out wherever they went in their team-issued Hudson Bay coats, a winter parka made of wool that was thick, warm and colourful. Even off the ice, the Canadians were unmistakable.

Although their stay wasn’t very long, the Miners’ did experience history and culture of the two cities as tourists. This was especially relevant in Dresden, which is famous for producing fine China dinnerware and, of course, German beer.

And what would be a visit to any part of Germany without a stop at a brewery? Although for the Miners, the insistence of their hosts to do so on a game day did seem a little odd.

“The day of the first game they took us through a Pilsner brewery,” laughs Yucytus, now 85. “It didn’t make sense to us to visit a brewery on a game day. It was something out of the ordinary and very unusual.”

But in typical Canadian fashion and as true ambassadors, they obliged, never complained and perhaps indulged.

The games against the East German national team were played outdoors and involved frequent interruptions to remove the snow that was accumulating on the ice.

“You’d play for 15 minutes then they’d clean the ice,” he said.

At the Ahearne Cup, the Miners were humbled with a 1-4-1 record and further troubled by a Russian junior team following the tournament’s completion with a 7-4 loss. According to Yucytus, experience can sometimes rectify speed, but not when your team is a “bunch of old codgers” playing against a group of 20-year-old kids.

“They skated our butts off,” he said.

The Miners finished the European trip by splitting a pair of games against the Finnish national team – one in Tampere, one in Helsinki – to complete the tour with a 4-6-1 record.

In 2008, the 1965-66 Drumheller Miners were inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame. Obviously, based on that distinction it was a very special group. And according to Yucytus it was also the last time the surviving members of the team got together.

However, their special bond is without question and likely originated from the many hours spent together commuting around Alberta for games and practices.

Yucytus says many of the veteran players from that Miners’ team were from Calgary, so the 90-minute drive four times per week to-and-from Drumheller or Hanna built great relationships which carried onto the ice.

“A lot of times we had two cars full riding out. I think that’s why we had so much camaraderie. It was one of those teams that everything fell together.”

Including a special trip to Europe.

For more information:

Lisa Dornan
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 / 403-510-7046 (mobile)
ldornan@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Spencer Sharkey
Coordinator, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4567 / 905-906-5327 (mobile)
ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

 

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