The cross-ice pass from Jordan Samuels-Thomas was perfectly angled. His teammate had only to reach out his stick and tap the puck to get it past the outstretched goaltender. Any professional hockey player could have completed that play.
But the puck slid harmlessly under the teammate’s stick and into the corner of the rink. Samuels-Thomas broke into a huge smile, swooped after the loose puck, and kept the play alive.
His teammate, after all, was only 12.
Samuels-Thomas was leading a group of kids in a Carlsbad hockey skills camp, one of several the former left wing for the San Diego Gulls puts on in the county.
"This is an amazing hockey town," he says. During last year’s season, the Gulls had the highest attendance of all American Hockey League teams, according to the database hockeydb.com. Many weekend games were sellouts. "San Diego should have an NFL and NBA team," he continues. "We’re playing for fans who are hungry for sports. Even when the Gulls are on the road, there’s always a group from San Diego in the stands. Other teams struggle to get a few thousand people to come to their games." The 2018–19 season kicks off this month, October 6, against the Tucson Roadrunners.
When Samuels-Thomas joined the San Diego Gulls in 2016, he immediately jumped into civic life as a volunteer and simultaneously became an ambassador for local hockey. This spring, after he parted with the team, he was the NBC7 sports analyst for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
His former Gulls coach, Dallas Eakins, says his approach to hockey is the same as his approach to life.
"Jordan set the standard in practice for how hard everyone should work. Every practice had Jordan saying, ‘How far can I push it today?’ And everyone followed. Out in the community it’s the same approach. He wants to have a positive effect on everyone he meets."
Samuels-Thomas grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, and played hockey for Bowling Green and Quinnipiac universities. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism at the latter, where he also competed in the national collegiate championship game. He was drafted by the former Atlanta Thrashers and has played professionally throughout North America, and most recently in Europe. But despite his cross-continental travels, San Diego has always felt like home.
"This is where my wife and I want to put down our roots," says the Cortez Hill resident.
Beyond the rink, he has gone into business with another local athlete, Ty Adkison, a former minor leaguer for the LA Dodgers and SDSU alum. Adkison started BlockTerra Capital, a cryptocurrency hedge fund that specializes in working with investors who are professional athletes.
"I love learning new things," says Samuels-Thomas, who serves as BlockTerra’s director of client relations. "I won’t always be able to play hockey. This looks like a good next step for me."
In his spare time, you’ll find him at the Kroc Center, Wounded Warrior events, local YMCAs, Junior Seau’s Shop With a Jock holiday event, sponsoring scholarships for elementary school kids, or on television—all to keep the spirit of hockey alive in San Diego.
"Best way to describe him?" says Eakins. "He’s hungry for life."