Rempel Was Altona Trailblazer
Jerry Rempel was Altona's first professional hockey player.
Jerry Rempel was born in Altona, a small town just five minutes from the US border in Manitoba on Dec 21, 1942, which makes him 79 years old. When queried about his life of 60+ years ago, Rempel can still remember his hockey days vividly as we took a walk down memory lane of an Altona sports pioneer.
“I was born in Altona and had my hockey start there,” Rempel recalled. “Harry Sulkers was the playing coach that the Maroons had hired, and he really helped me a bunch. He was a pretty good senior leaguer.”
“We had lots of ice time being from a small town. We were playing at the old Sunflower Gardens arena for one and a half hours after school three times a week, and the rest of the time, we’d play all day on the outdoor rinks. Now there’s apartments where the old rink was downtown. But we played on the frozen ponds, and all over. It was endless.”
Rempel grew up idolizing Gordie Howe and would listen to him on the radio on Saturday nights when the Detroit Red Wings were playing in Toronto. That was the only way Howe and the Wings would be on the air in Manitoba.
By the time he was fifteen, he was already good enough to be playing for the senior Altona Maroons. He was considered as close to a hockey prodigy as Altona has ever had.
Around this time, Rempel signed a “C Form” with the Detroit Red Wings, making him property of the big-league club.
“Harry Sulkers was a playing coach for the Maroons, and I guess he saw something in me, and he recommended me to some of the scouts in Winnipeg. So some NHL scouts came from Winnipeg to Altona to watch me, and the next thing I know I was signing with Detroit.”
“I never got to attend any Detroit Red Wings training camps, sadly. They would take the top draft choices to the Detroit camps in those years, and I never got to go.”
From there, Rempel went to the Saskatchewan Junior League and played two seasons with the Weyburn Red Wings. In Weyburn, Rempel was teammates with goalie Joe Daley, who later backstopped the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets to three AVCO Cups in the 1970s.
In 1963, Rempel officially turned pro playing with the Philadelphia Ramblers of the EHL. And for the next three seasons, he played pro all across the eastern seaboard in cities such as New York, Providence, Jacksonville and New Jersey.
“I thought that going from Altona to Weyburn was a big adjustment going to a new and bigger city. But then when I went to Philadelphia, now that was a big adjustment, living in a major city for the first time.”
“That Philadelphia Ramblers team was just like the movie Slapshot. It was the same thing. A lot of ex-NHLers played in that league because there were only six teams in the NHL then. I would go to training camp, and there would be 100 kids there trying to make the team.”
Some of the players that Rempel called teammates in the pros included Hall of Fame netminder Eddie Giacomin, Willie Marshall, Ab McDonald, Tommy Williams and Cliff Pennington.
“At that time, it was a bigger deal playing pro,” recalled Rempel. “It’s all changed so much since then, and the game has changed so much. I don’t even know if it’s the same game anymore!”
In 1966, Rempel decided to pack in professional hockey and went out west to play senior hockey in Trail and Medicine Hat. By 1969, Rempel was back playing senior hockey in Manitoba.
Through it all, the only championship that Rempel ever won in his career was with the senior Altona Maroons.
“Altona was a good place to get my start in life. When I was about 36 or 37, I was playing old-timers in Altona and living in Winnipeg. I came home one night really late because there were always late games there. And I figured that’s it – time to stop playing hockey and so I haven’t really skated since then.”
Nowadays, Rempel is living in Winnipeg with his wife. He has two bad knees and doesn’t get around too much, but still enjoys watching the hockey on television.
When looking back at his favourite hockey memories, Rempel said, “I guess just being a kid on the prairies, growing up in a small town, we were on the ice all the time and all over the place, on ponds, wherever there was a place to play. It was a great childhood, and that was mainly because of the fun I had playing hockey. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
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