Richard Samson loved playing for the Pembroke Lumber Kings. A visit to his home and a mere mention of his time playing goal for his hometown junior hockey team could lead to a prolonged conversation about the highlights of his Lumber Kings tenure. Inevitably, it led to Samson pulling out his impressive collection of scrapbooks and memorabilia which told the story of his hockey career.
He had pictures, old Lumber Kings programs, newspaper clippings and even recordings of game broadcasts with the great Bill Kutschke behind the microphone. It was decades ago when he wore the red and white jersey of the Kings, but those memories stayed with him until his final days.
Samson passed away recently, his family by his side as he succumbed to colon cancer. In his final days, he was nostalgic, reaching out to friends for one final talk. Many of those conversations focused on sports, one of the great pleasures of his life.
Samson was a good fastball player, roaming centre field at Riverside Park each summer, but hockey was his passion. He played senior hockey for many years after his junior career came to a close, but if you wanted to get him excited, you only had to ask him about his time playing under coaches like Brother Maurice Sheridan, Denis Labine and Bill Higginson. They were his Lumber Kings coaches when he played in the mid to late 1960’s.
“You played for the name. I loved it,” Samson said as he remembered his Lumber King days.
A product of the Pembroke minor hockey system, Samson wasn’t a very big man, but he was quick. His agility allowed him to get in front of pucks and it earned him an invitation to his first Lumber Kings training camp when he was only 14 years old.
Over the next few years, Samson would share the goaltending duties with players like Rick Borne and Barry Russett. His last season with the Kings was in 1969-70 when he played 15 games, but it was the season before that gave him his most cherished memory.
In a deciding playoff game with the Smiths Falls Bears, Samson got the call to mind the net and faced a future NHL hall of fame goaltender in Billy Smith, but it was Samson who came out on top. When Chipper Lafreniere scored in overtime against Smith, the Lumber Kings advanced to the league final against the Hull Beavers. Regrettably, Samson and his teammates were denied a championship ring, losing to the Quebec team in six games.
But sometimes having a selective memory is a good thing. When Billy Smith went on to backstop the New York Islanders to four Stanley Cup championships, it gave Samson a story for the ages. You could see the twinkle in his eye when he recalled that March 17, 1969 game when the luck of the Irish helped him beat a future hall of fame goaltender.
Besting Smith was one of his favourite stories but so too was the night he showed up at the Pembroke Memorial Centre as a Lumber King, but ended up playing for the Ottawa Capitals. The Capitals arrived in Pembroke with two injured goalies who couldn’t play, but they didn’t want to go home and lose by default. So, Kings coach Moe Sheridan asked Samson if he would be willing to play for the opposition. It was a bad idea. Samson was outstanding, stoning his Lumber Kings teammates in a game that ended in a 3-3 tie as the Kings got a late goal from Tom Mohns to escape with a point.
“Imagine almost beating your own team. That would never happen today,” said Samson a few years ago.
As his junior career wrapped up, Samson moved to the East Coast League where he suited up with a team in Syracuse, but home sickness brought him back to Pembroke. A year later, he headed to British Columbia to play with a senior hockey team in Prince Rupert. Being that far from home still wasn’t appealing, so he returned to the Ottawa Valley and joined the Pontiac Seniors hockey team that played out of Shawville, Quebec. Later he backstopped the Petawawa Pepsis in a recreational league.
He settled into a job at the Eddy Match plant in Pembroke where he worked for many years in the company mailroom and as a courier, sometimes picking up company executives or running errands. When his job became redundant, he moved to the Storwal plant in Pembroke, and then ended his career working in the laundry department at the Pembroke Regional Hospital.
In 2000, he returned to the Pembroke Lumber Kings as the club’s trainer. He was back on the bench in the hockey rink that held so many memories for him. It felt good, but it couldn’t match the thrill of playing the game he loved. When head coach Mac MacLean left the team, Samson also stepped aside.
When Richard Samson closed his eyes for the final time on April 6th he was 72 years old, more than 50 years removed from his last junior hockey game with the Pembroke Lumber Kings. He left this world knowing he was forever a Pembroke Lumber King.